Cornell University Chapter Goes to Peru, Part 1

Guest Blog written by EWH Chapter at Cornell University

Trip to Peru

Recently, five members of Cornell's EWH team returned from field research Lima, Peru. There, we spent eight days partnering with MEDLIFE International. Our team members volunteered in the MEDLIFE clinics to improve their understanding of how healthcare technology is administered in developing countries. They gained deep insights into the community and regional clinic system and came back with many new ideas for medical devices, some of which are now in development.

EWH Cornell Group

To see more pictures from the trip, visit:

The Trip

Once we got to Peru, we met up with MEDLIFE. They are a non-profit group which runs mobile clinics in several countries. We stayed in a hostel with other students who were working with MEDLIFE that week. Every day at 6:30am we would wake up, eat breakfast, and load onto a bus to drive an hour or so to the clinic site. We would help set up the tents and medical equipment, and then follow an assigned general doctor, OB-GYN, pharmacist, or dentist throughout the day, assisting when possible. During this time we were also able to interview the health care workers and ask for their opinion on a number of issues. One day was spent constructing a staircase on a steep hill to improve the daily well-being of the local community members.

Justin at Triage Station        Painting the staircase with other MedLife volunteers

On the last day of clinics, we had a chance to talk to the CEO of MEDLIFE, who was very excited to have engineers there. We described several engineering projects -- mostly infrastructure -- which he wanted to begin work on. We hope to continue to maintain a relationship with him.

On the last part of the trip, we had time to take an additional (personal) tour to a few other parts of Peru. We visited a great sand-dune desert, a nature reserve, and a local winery. It was a great way to cap-off the trip.

Personal Impact

All of us saw the world a bit differently after our trip, but not quite in the way we expected.

As Paul Chang put it: "Personally for me, this Peru trip with Engineering World Health has been very eye-opening. Not only was the team able to brainstorm potential future projects, the experience of visiting and seeing the low resource environment puts context into the work we do back at Cornell. We can put faces to the people we are trying to serve; it gives me extra motivation to work and develop a solution having met these people in need. Other than the tangible information that we obtained from this trip, I believe the motivation that members gain from going abroad is equally valuable. Our hope is that in the future, EWH will continue to send members abroad each year to gain both valuable research information and reinforced motivation."

Our group after finishing a staircase built by MEDLIFE volunteers

And Brecken Blackburn: "What surprised me most wasn't the poverty -- in designing low-cost medical devices we became very aware of the level of impoverishment -- but the reasons behind it. Our leader explained many of the government policies behind why so many people are so poor. There is beautiful, filtered water running in huge pipes through many poor, water-borne-disease-prone communities surrounding Lima, but it only carries the clean water into the rich areas, not stopping for the poor. It made me realize that engineering has to work in conjunction with people and their governments in order to have any effect. Seeing that blatant inefficiency caused by policies has definitely changed the way I will approach engineering problems in the future."

Our experience in Peru has given us important insight into what their hospitals need, and how that differs from what's needed in US hospitals. We'll be sharing more about our trip and what we accomplished next week.

Editors Note: EWH would like to congratulate Cornell Chapter's dedication to engineering design for the developing world! We look forward to hearing about their future endeavors. 

#Maps on the Web: Peirce Quincuncial Projection: