UH Med Now

UH medical students take part in international project to eradicate TB in the Marshall Islands

Date: May 18th, 2017 in JABSOM News, Rural, Student Life    Print or PDF

Pictured: L-R: Dr. Yusuke Kobayashi (JABSOM MD 2017) with Orlando Salazar, x-ray technician at Lanakila Health Center, during their volunteer work in the Marshall Islands.

By Tina Shelton, UH Med Now

Medical students from the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) traveled more than 2,500 miles to help fight tuberculosis (TB) in Ebeye, the most populated island of Kwajalein Atoll, and one of three “hotspots” for tuberculosis in the Pacific region identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

The massive TB screening program was launched by last year with registration and record collection. Then came action, and that’s where the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM) medical students entered the scene. On the ground for three weeks, they helped to screen some 5,600 residents of Ebeye in the Marshall Islands’ largest-ever effort ever to eradicate the disease. TB is a bacterial infection that can be fatal. It most often attacks the lungs and can be spread through coughs, but it can also harm other organs.

Class of 2017 medical students (now MDs) Nash Witten and Yusuke Kobayashi were joined by their faculty advisor, Dr. Seiji Yamada of the JABSOM Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, along with teams of RMI health workers, regional Pacific TB staff, international volunteers, and representatives from the CDC and the World Health Organization.

Members of Team A in Ebeye.

Groups A and B of the program, along with the local Ebeye Island staff, outside of the TB clinic on Ebeye Island prior to Group A’s departure.

“The members of our team, like us, were volunteers. They were from Australia, India, Palau, RMI, and the states of Nevada, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Washington, said Witten, who graduated as an MD this month. “The team included consisted of four physicians, one TB nurse, two TB program coordinators, an x-ray technician from Lanakila Health Center, and the two of us University of Hawaiʻi students.”

Funding for the JABSOM students’ travel to the Marshall Islands came from the medical school’s Hawaiʻi Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center, which supports efforts to train future health care workers for Hawai’i and the Pacific.

The large-scale TB screening program may influence future efforts to fight TB. For future physicians Witten and Kobayashi, the benefit was more immediate. They helped thousands of Pacific island neighbors, people who were openly grateful for their effort.

“As we walked every day to the Leroij Kitlang Memorial Health Center where we worked, along the way were met with many friendly greetings of “Yokwe” (the Marshallese word for hello or goodbye) from Ebeye Island residents we passed on the street,” said Dr. Witten.

Related Story:
First-person account: University of Hawaii MD students on Ebeye Island

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