Tag Archives: Clinical Practice

Sarah Sexton: “Promotion of Health Access in Peru’s Sacred Valley”


As I placed my feet onto the red-eye flight to Lima, Peru I instantly felt a rush of emotions that had been building up in my stubborn self for several months. From the discussions of packing to the safety concerns from my family, it was not until my long flight that I started to consider what I had gotten myself into. The next 24 hours of travel that involved several plane transfers, unsafe cars, donkeys, and wagons proved to become a microcosm of the adventures I had voluntarily placed myself in for the next few months.

As a health education coordinator working for Sacred Valley Health in Ollantaytambo, Peru, it was my responsibility to develop and train community health workers (promotoras) in 7 surrounding communities. With little knowledge about the communities, I found my first day hiking 8 hours with a Peruvian nurse to quickly learn about my main areas of focus. Let me say that hiking over 14,000 ft. passes and extreme conversation barriers leaves a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to complain about your aching legs. In fact, the majority of my time in Peru was spent in solitude trekking across the mountains, riding donkeys across the passes, or more commonly hitchhiking in the back of an animal truck just praying to get back to my village. Everyday I left my home in Ollantaytambo, never knowing what danger I may face, or if I would make it down the mountain alone. If I wasn’t hiking or up working in one of my communities, my time was spent in my own village. This often included hour-long meals eating guinea pig, being chased by rabid dogs, or more simply just living out underneath the beauty of the stars. With zero electricity, I didn’t have any modern conveniences such as a hot shower, running toilet, or even a normal sleeping arrangement for several months. Despite the hardships that I faced, these were the three best months of my life, and I am yearning for the moment that I can return.

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Mara Buchbinder on her latest book “Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening”

baby feet

1. How did the idea for this project come about?

It was a question of being in the right place at the right time. I was brought on to the project after the initial investigators, who were two professors of sociology at UCLA, had developed this idea to study the impact of newborn screening in the clinic. They had learned that newborn screening was in this new phase of development where the state had just rolled out screening tests for a large number of disorders. They were really interested in doing something around the idea of medical uncertainty and this seemed like a perfect target for exploring some of those ideas, because it was really unclear what the impact of screening asymptomatic children for such a large number of disorders was going to be. At the time that this was getting off the ground, I was a graduate student. I was working on my dissertation research and I started out working on the newborn screening project as a research assistant. Over time, one of the investigators got busy with other projects, and I ended up taking on a bigger role, and working more closely with Stefan Timmermans, who co-authored the book with me.

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