The value of time on the ground

Devyn, a nursing/midwifery student and part of MHA's collaboration with Vanderbilt University, reflects on the value of their recent trip to Guatemala.


Devyn, a nurse-midwife student from Vanderbilt University who is partnering with MHA | WK, guest writes this week on our blog!


Our team of interdisciplinary graduate students (two nursing, one business, one public health, and one economics) and an administrator from education are working with Wuqu’ Kawoq
| Maya Health Alliance, a health systems NGO based in the highlands of Guatemala. Wuqu’ Kawoq (WK) is unique amongst clinics in Guatemala in that they serve marginalized Maya communities in their indigenous languages, and they provide primary care and treat more complex diseases like cancer and diabetes. We are working with them to reduce the cost of their pharmaceuticals, and our Spring Break immersion trip was integral to the data-gathering part of our project.


We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala and had the opportunity to spend time at a local social enterprise coworking space called the Impact Hub, where we met other professionals and learned more about social enterprise in Central America. In addition, we had a bit of free time and were able to take in the beauty and local flavor of historical Antigua with a hike to a vista, multiple views of smoking volcanoes, and wandering through the cobblestone streets to markets, plazas, and old churches.


After a weekend in Antigua, we travelled to Tecpán, the smaller, less touristy town where WK is headquartered. Our primary goal while in Tecpán was to gather information about their pharmaceutical importing, purchasing, and distribution process. We spent time interviewing the executive director and pharmacist, as well as providers and administrative support people. From these conversations we learned about the nine medications that take up the biggest part of WK’s budget and began to brainstorm ways we could help mitigate the cost of one or more of those. These are ideas we are planning to explore further during the project implementation phase in the second half of the semester.


In addition to long hours spent interviewing staff, we were able to see first-hand some of the projects WK is actively implementing. On our first day, we broke into teams of three and went with two WK community health workers out to the rural homes of families participating in a nutrition program for children under two. We were able to sit in on prenatal visits, and some of our team went out into the rural communities with the WK team of midwives to meet with local providers. Seeing the impact WK has on local communities inspired us all to work for significant change.


Our trip to Guatemala was immensely helpful to our project development. Not only were we able to gain an appreciation of the amazing work that Wuqu’ Kawoq is doing for their patients, but we gained invaluable information to aid in our project implementation. Our team returned feeling inspired and committed to finding real cost-saving solutions for Wuqu’ Kawoq, and is excited to continue working on this project.