Health Sciences Welcomes Students from Ecuador

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

This past summer, four students from The University of Texas at El Paso traveled to Ecuador to participate in Hispanic health studies alongside researchers and students from the Universidad Regional Autónoma de los Andes “Uniandes” in Ambato. 

In mid-November, the College of Health Sciences returned the hospitality that Jose Chavez, Brianda Prado, Sergio Flores and Leann Rodriguez received in Ambato and welcomed three medical students and two professors from Uniandes to the UTEP campus.Gabriel Naranjo, Gabriela Viteri and Diego Lopez are three medical students from the Universidad Regional Autónoma de los ANDES “Uniandes” in Ambato, Ecuador, who visited UTEP on Nov. 15 as part of the University’s Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service. Gabriel Naranjo, Gabriela Viteri and Diego Lopez are three medical students from the Universidad Regional Autónoma de los ANDES “Uniandes” in Ambato, Ecuador, who visited UTEP on Nov. 15 as part of the University’s Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service.

“Students from UTEP participated in some research projects over the summer in Ecuador and now we’re going to take ideas for projects from here back to Ecuador,” said Gabriel Naranjo in Spanish, who along with his classmates Diego Lopez and Gabriela Viteri will graduate from Uniandes’ medical program in three years. 

Their international visit is part of UTEP’s Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program, which sends students to Ecuador and Costa Rica for six weeks during the summer to participate in research projects that look at eliminating health disparities in Hispanics. Students spent one week in Ambato and five weeks in Quito, Ecuador. Seven students traveled to Costa Rica.

This was the first time that medical students from Ecuador visited the University. The goal is to promote further research collaborations between the two universities.

Students are in the preliminary stage of gathering research ideas, but a potential project may involve comparing the incidence of schizophrenia among the Hispanic populations in El Paso and in Ambato, Naranjo said.

While in Ambato, UTEP students worked on research projects throughout the city that focused on health, Viteri said.

Flores met Viteri his first week in Ecuador, where he helped conduct a cross-sectional study on prostate cancer in rural elderly men.

The trip also gave him and his UTEP classmates the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture. Their host father took the UTEP group to see an active volcano, while their host mothers welcomed them with a traditional family dinner.

Flores was excited to hear that students from Uniandes planned to visit El Paso.

“In Ambato, I was received by the most welcoming people I have ever met and they always had an activity for us to do,” said Flores, who expects to graduate with his Bachelor of Science in biology in December. “When I heard some students were coming to visit I jumped at the opportunity to return all those favors. The students did mention to me that coming to El Paso, they felt a very welcoming presence that they had not experienced before coming to the United States, and maybe it is due to the fact that it is a relatively small city.”

During their visit to El Paso, Naranjo, Lopez and Viteri toured the research labs at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, the City of El Paso Department of Health and other health care facilities.

While at UTEP, the medical students were impressed by the Health Sciences and Nursing Building, the Exercise Science Teaching Laboratory and the Student Recreation Center.

“The infrastructure is different. Our school is small. There’s a lot of technology here,” Lopez said.

Dr. Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia, M.D., Ph.D., a lecturer in Public Health Sciences, drove the medical students around Mount Cristo Rey, ASARCO, Old Smelter Town, Arroyo Park, Scenic Drive and Transmountain Road and discussed the environmental importance of these sites.

“In all, I gave an explanation of the importance of the Rio Grande, the Mesilla and Hueco bolson aquifers, the air and watersheds and how it is shared and produces health problems across the borderland,” Ibarra-Mejia said.

Lopez said his visit to UTEP was more than he imagined.

“I was not expecting this. This University is a dream,” he said.

Naranjo said the collaboration between UTEP and Uniandes is an opportunity for students to learn from each other.

“We learn as much from them as they learn from us,” he said. “We want them to learn to adapt. Every person is used to doing things a certain way. We want to show them new ways.”

Flores, who spent five weeks in Quito, Ecuador, going door-to-door recruiting older adults to participate in a nutritional program to study the effects of vitamin supplementation on respiratory infections, hopes that the relationship between UTEP and Ecuador continues.

“From this visit I hope that UTEP and Uniandes maintain that relationship to continue sending future MHIRT participants to Ambato,” Flores said.

Since 2006, the MHIRT project has been a mentoring program for future health sciences researchers through institutional role-modeling, scientific working groups, support of institutional research and support for gaining research competencies that advance the state of knowledge about Hispanic health disparities. To date, the MHIRT program has afforded international research training opportunities to 65 UTEP students in basic science and health and human science disciplines.

The project is made possible by a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health – National Center for Minority Health Disparities.

MHIRT is accepting applications for the 2013 Summer Institute through Jan. 11, 2013. To qualify, applicants must be juniors, seniors or graduate students; have a minimum 3.0 G.P.A.; and have declared a major in a pre-professional science, or a health or human service discipline.

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