Last January I was able to visit Arequipa, Peru to do a research on Chagas disease. One part of my experience was to do two research projects at the headquarters in Peru, while another was to go to the field site of Arequipa and see how Chagas disease spreads first–hand.
Chagas disease is caused by a parasite Trypanosoma Cruzi, which travels via a bug called a triatomine, which can eventually infect small animals and humans. The bugs carrying these parasites are the biggest problem in Chagas disease transmission, as they can infest houses in Arequipa, Peru especially in poorer neighborhoods and households. When visiting the field sites, households in Arequipa, our research team visited backyards with brick walls housing hundreds of bugs. Holding one of these bricks, which were crawling with bugs, it became very clear to me why these triatomine bugs have been described as an urban problem and public health concern.
Being able to see these bugs in their real–world context of the city of Arequipa was important for me to know the larger picture of the two research projects that I worked on in Peru. The first project I worked coding for an app with our team that lets health inspectors in the Ministry of Health of Peru look for houses that are more probable to be infested with the triatomine bugs. The second project, which became my thesis, looked to see whether there was a difference in movement between bugs that carried the parasite that causes Chagas disease and those that do not. Both by knowing the movement of the bug and with the app given to the health inspectors, we can learn more about the larger picture of Chagas disease transmission in the city and try to help contain it.
Besides learning more about Chagas disease, this experience helped me learn more about what I want to do with my life, and after my graduation I decided to go back to Arequipa to work with the research team. We are currently working on a few projects, one of which is related to the app for health inspectors that I worked on previously. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation, what I really wanted was to be able to work on an interesting project with people I like. Through this research grant, I was able to learn more about the opportunity to do that.