Promoting health in Nicaragua

Villanova, PA, March 20, 2010 — Responding to requests from local health promoters in Waslala, Nicaragua nine Villanova University College of Nursing students created and delivered classes to over 60 community health workers on environmental health, disaster preparedness, infectious diseases and waterborne illnesses, first aid and safety in March.

Nicaragua is the third poorest nation in the Americas, one that depends heavily on agriculture. It is the largest country in Central America. The students traveled there as part of their senior level health promotion practicum. They were partially supported with their funding as Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholars. Led by faculty Elizabeth Keech, PhD, RN, assistant professor and Bette Mariani, PhD, RN, clinical assistant professor, they researched the safety and health topics and prepared the teaching modules which were translated into Spanish for both health promoters and area residents and schoolchildren. Basic safety information is critical in this area in Nicaragua where there are drownings during the rainy season, airborne toxins from the burning of plastics, and burns related to home cooking oil and the practice of slashing and burning to clear farm land. The nursing students delivered their interactive lectures to include practice using a stethoscope to listen to basic heart and lung sounds and taught their audiences how to check pulse rates.

The nursing group travels to Waslala with College of Engineering students and faculty who in parallel work on safe and accessible water for Waslala residents. The collaboration results in broader promotion of health to this underserved population.

The nurses visited a hospital, homes for the elderly and for pregnant women awaiting the birth of their child, and a domestic abuse shelter as well as visited patients in their homes both in Waslala and its surrounding rural mountain communities. They saw elderly patients with dementia and young children and infants with pneumonia and limited access to care. The experience enhances their global perspective of health and health care.

Dr. Mariani is “encouraged to see each year the things the students are teaching are being implemented,” she explains, pointing to the fact that community members are trying to improve the drinking water by not drinking from the streams, burn less plastic, and use proper hand hygiene. All are wellness behaviors taught by current and previous Villanova nurses. “Strides are being made,” offers Dr. Mariani.

The nursing students raised money prior to their experience in Nicaragua to purchase much needed items for the people of Waslala including over-the-counter analgesics, vitamins, prenatal vitamins , first aid supplies, bandaids and topical creams as well as scrubs for the nurses in the local hospital. Drs. Keech and Mariani look forward to returning to Nicaragua next spring to continue the work of the last six years.

Dr. Mariani with the nursing students at a maternity clinic at a hospital in Waslala.
Dr. Mariani with the nursing students at a maternity clinic at a hospital in Waslala.
Megan Carey checks a blood pressure during a home visit.
Megan Carey checks a blood pressure during a home visit.
Maureen Kringas and other Villanova Nursing students teach Nicaraguan schoolchildren how to listen to their heart and lung sounds.
Maureen Kringas and other Villanova Nursing students teach Nicaraguan schoolchildren how to listen to their heart and lung sounds.