DIGESA

Hello! This is Michelle in Lima, Peru working for DIGESA, or the Directory of Environmental Health as part of the Ministry of Health in Peru. DIGESA processes water and food samples from around Lima for contamination. I’m working on the ” Gastric Cancer and Helicobacter pylori infection in Lima, Peru: The role of water contamination” project. My role is to take water samples from different parts of Lima, concentrate the particles in the water onto filter membranes, analyze the samples and send the results back to UMSPH.

View from the roof of DIGESA overlooking Lima, Peru

View from the roof of DIGESA overlooking Lima, Peru

I’ve already gone around the city to collect a lot of water samples. This has been my favorite part of work because I get to see districts and places I would never see otherwise. A lot of the areas are shantytowns created when Lima had a huge boom in population during the 1970s, and the economic progress in these areas has not improved since then. We have gone into people’s homes, restaurants, auto repair shops, and stores just to take water samples. One of the strangest sites was going underground in basically a sewer drain to collect a sample from the reservoir underground. I would never have imagined I would be climbing ladders underground to take water samples, but in Peru, anything is possible.

Pile of trash on the side of the road in Lima, Peru

Pile of trash on the side of the road in Lima, Peru

The other part of my work is analyzing the samples in the lab. I’m in the Molecular Biology lab and mostly do DNA Extraction and PCR to detect the presence or absence of H. pylori.

Taking samples for analysis.

Taking samples for analysis.

The laboratory

The laboratory

I’ve been working with a guy named Alfredo and we get along pretty well except for the language barrier. My Spanish is decent, but I can’t understand people when they talk really fast or mumble their words together. I also never learned scientific Spanish, so when he talks about centrifuging something or samples of water, I barely understand what was said. I’m learning the methods and about the machines, so that has made things easier. I forgot how tiring it is to think and process two languages at once, but then add in scientific terminology and it’s really overwhelming. I was so tired the first few weeks because my brain was processing so much information- language, new settings, how to get around, what to eat, trying to remember random words I haven’t thought about since high school, etc.

Water filtration system. This is what I do most days.

Water filtration system. This is what I do most days.

 

Highlights of work: finding a positive H. pylori sample! Also it has been fun to explain American culture to the Peruvians, and to learn more about their culture. Everyone here is always willing to talk about the different places around Peru and to tell me what to do there. It’s also interesting to see what English words people here know. Mostly, basic phrases such as “Hello,” “Good Morning, miss,” “How are you?” Some people know more so that’s nice. I’m learning a lot about how government institutions work, how science operates in other countries, and how open they are with their information to the public. Sometimes I get frustrated by random rules, but I know they are cultural norms and are important to the institution. Adios for now!

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