MISSION: International Outreach – Project Yucatan

Twenty-five students, faculty and staff in the College of Medicine are determined to use their spring break to change the lives of some rural villagers.

Currently, 19 medical students, three pharmacy students, three physicians and one resident physician are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The group is working alongside Mexican medical students to do screenings in four rural villages: Timucuy, Conkal, Homun and Bokoba.

“These sorts of experiences make us better physicians and better health-care providers,” said Archna Eniasivam, 23, a second-year medical student and Project Yucatan’s trip leader. “It’s a great reminder as to why we went into the medical profession in the first place.”

In 2008, Eniasivam said they saw between 300 to 400 people a day. They focus on the indigenous population, such as the Mayans. Some of this group’s major medical issues include chronic back pain, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, she said.

Diabetes has become as big an issue in the Yucatan as it has here in the U.S. People are eating unhealthy junk foods because they are so “cheap and prevalent” and consuming too many carbohydrates, Eniasivam said.

However, in some ways, diabetes and its related complications are worse for these villagers because they do not have access to the same medications that many in the U.S. do, Eniasivam said.

Judy Simms-Cendan, M.D., the trip’s current adviser, started Project Yucatan in 2002. Aside from its medical knowledge, the group brings donated items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, multivitamins and basic over-the-counter medication, like ibuprofen, for those suffering from chronic pain, Eniasivam said.

During a usual day in the Yucatan, she said they see patients from 9:30 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. and then wrap up the clinic before the women of the village cook a meal for the group.

“We see a whole demographic of people who don’t get the health care they need,” Eniasivam said. “And they are so appreciative for it. The atmosphere and the environment help put things back into perspective.”