Five Weeks in El Salvador

ON HOMEPAGE: In June 2008, Christopher Pray begins his third-year of medical school at SUNY Upstate’s clinical campus in Binghamton.

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Cover of Spring 2008 Outlook

Last summer—armed with a year of medical school, two weeks of medical Spanish language classes, three suitcases filled with pamphlets and first aid equipment, and some good advice—Christopher Pray hopped in the back of a pickup truck and headed for a village in the mountains of western El Salvador. Pray, a medical student at SUNY Upstate, had learned about La Isla through a nonprofit organization that offers aid to the village's residents. It was a three-hour drive over dirt roads to get from the city of Santa Ana to the village of La Isla. When he arrived, Pray discovered that the people of La Isla had no health clinic, but they did have cases and cases of sugary soft drinks, all from U.S. companies. Pray went to work with finger stick tests and blood pressure cuffs, and discovered a community "hooked" on soda pop: he tested more than 100 people, and diagnosed dozens of cases of diabetes and hypertension. Fortunately, Pray had been advised to concentrate on these two conditions because they can be improved through lifestyle changes. Using the Spanish language patient education materials he brought with him, Pray worked with a number of La Isla residents to improve their diabetes and hypertension through diet and exercise

Early in his stay, Pray cared for a 10-year-old boy who gashed his leg with a machete while harvesting plantain. After examining the child's injury, Pray contacted a U.S. doctor for advice, via cell phone. Using basic first aid—oral antibiotics, sterile water and bandages—Pray was able to help the child, and to train the village's mayor and teachers to administer first aid in the future. Pray acknowledges that this trip, and his passion for international health, were inspired by the writings of Paul Farmer MD, PhD, founding director of Partners In Health. After returning to medical school last fall, Pray was able to meet Farmer when he spoke at one of Upstate's Keating Memorial Global Health lectures.