Road Traffic Injuries in Santo Domingo
Medical School Class of 2020
Global health has been a common thread of my medical education, and my understanding and appreciation for this field continues to evolve with each new opportunity. The Office of Global Health at UT Southwestern has allowed me to gain valuable, hands-on experience that has inspired me to pursue a career in this field.
After the summer of my first year, I worked with the UNIBE School of Medicine in Santo Domingo to document the public health impact of road traffic injuries. The Dominican Republic is a vibrant country with a rich cultural history and breathtaking natural wonders. Despite strong economic growth rates, the country has the highest road traffic accident fatality rate in the Western Hemisphere. The goal of our research was to better understand the nature of these accidents and the injuries sustained by those involved.
Our original intention was to review the medical records of patients who were admitted for road traffic accidents. However, we soon realized that relying solely on the written record would limit our understanding of the issue. As a result, we modified our project to focus on directly interviewing patients and family members who were admitted to the hospital after a road traffic accident.
Although our decision to interview patients was guided by the need to collect more complete data, the real benefit was not as easily quantifiable. Our original retrospective study seemed to demonize the use of motorcycles, the primary culprit in most road traffic-associated fatalities. But talking with the patients made us realize the cultural value that motorcycles hold among the Dominican people. For many, a motorcycle represents the only way to commute to work and provide for family. Cars are prohibitively expensive for the much of the population, and motorcyclists often reported how the rush hour traffic was easier to traverse on two-wheels.
Furthermore, these interviews helped us realize that helmet education is an area of life-saving intervention that could be emphasized by hospital staff and policy advocates. Many motorcyclists reported that they didn’t buckle their helmet or failed to use their helmet because they were only driving a short distance.
Directly interacting with local residents
I shied away from direct patient interaction during the first few weeks of the project because I wasn’t confident in my Spanish-speaking abilities. However, interviewing these patients with the help of a translator not only strengthened my conversational skills in Spanish, it was critical in our understanding of our research project focus. I encourage other students participating in global health research to directly interact with local patients and health care providers to encourage a more robust cultural exchange and mutually beneficial research experience.
Researching in Brazil
I am currently in Porto Alegre, Brazil, working with Dr. Artur Schuh (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul) to investigate the impact of various socioeconomic and environmental factors on functional outcomes in patients with Parkinson disease. Similar to other neurodegenerative diseases, the management of patients with PD requires input from all levels of the health care system.
As the population continues to age, PD will become an increasingly important area of focus in the Brazilian public health care plan (Sistema Único de Saúde). By understanding what factors drive disparities in the functional status of individuals affected by Parkinson disease, we hope future interventions can be tailored towards addressing these root causes.
Unlike many other countries, researchers in Brazil are not legally allowed to provide any financial reimbursement to research participants, making recruitment challenging. It is incredibly humbling to know that this research is the culmination of years of data collection from volunteers who participated in countless hours of neuropsychiatric testing. We can’t wait to share our results in honor of their dedication to scientific advancement.
– Sumanth Reddy, Medical School Class of 2020