Bigirimana, Arlene

Peru

Towards a better understanding of the social contexts for participating in improved cookstove field intervention trials

Daily exposure to biomass fuel smoke is a risk factor unique to low- and middle-income countries. Approximately 50% of all households and 90% of rural households worldwide use solid fuels as the main domestic source of energy. Rural households in resource-poor settings use biomass fuels almost exclusively for cooking. Individuals living in rural villages are particularly vulnerable to exposures of hazardous levels of indoor air pollution from incomplete combustion of biomass fuels. However, the health benefits of the introduction of improved cookstoves programs remains poorly documented and characterized.  Moreover, it is unclear how willing an individual is willing to wait to receive an improved cookstove if they are asked to participate in a randomized field trial. The proposed research placement takes advantage of the infrastructure and ongoing data collection efforts at our field sites in Puno, Peru. We seek to characterize attitudes, preferences and beliefs that influence the use and adoption of improved cookstoves in resource-poor settings. Specifically, we plan to better understand factors affecting the willingness of individuals to participate in randomized field trials of improved cookstoves. 

This summer I was fortunate enough to explore my passion for public health while abroad in Puno, Peru conducting research with Dr. William Checkley. The objective of the reseach project was to promote health and well-being amongst rural populations through interventions promoting the adoption and use of new and improved cookstoves. My main interest and participation in this project involved determining the politial atmosphere by which this project is conducted and how rural inhabitants, throughout Puno, Peru, feel about health research involving their community.

At first, I was so overwhelmed by the thought of being the only undergraduate on the team with no experience in research surrounded by four other Johns Hopkins students with many years of research experience under their belts. Throughout the weeks, I gained more and more confidence as I started to bond with research participants. At first, I wasn’t sure how useful I was going to be, but I quickly learned how much my team needed my help and support, espacially in terms of translation between the American and Peruvian researchers.

I have had experience working in developing countries, but I was definitely not prepared for the environmental aspect of working abroad. For me, I had a difficulty time adjusting to the high altitude and harsh winter we were exposed to. It was a work out for us to go up the stairs from our office to our bedrooms on the 3rd floor (10 steps max). Working in Puno, I knew we would be in a rural area, but I was not prepared for how limited our acces to entertainment would be. The biggest hype in town was the movie theater that oppened in the supermarket– Plaza Vea. Other than that, after 4 hours or more in the campo, we would roam the streets of Puno an explore new restaurants and Peruvian cuisines for fun.

Our flexible work schedule also allowed me to explore Peru outside of Puno. During my first weeks in Puno, I took a trip to the floating islands, went to Colca Canyons, did a night stay in Amantani and visted the Taquile islands. Of course I also could not leave Peru without visiting Machu Picchu.

While traveling around Peru was fun, meeting the warm and vibrant people I did is what I’ll always remember. Through this research, my persepective on global health changed from a community based outlook to one based on individual stories. For this reason, I am thankful that this opportunity allowed me to broaden my outlook on global health research and truly solidify my passion for the field. I am so proud and honored to have worked with a program whose members work hard to positively affect populations globally and would 100% do it all over again.


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October 2020

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