Northeastern students bring healthcare to patients who walk miles for medicine

Rani Viroja, left, Harrison Dieuveuil, and Mia Sherer are members of the Global Medical Brigade, a student-run organization that provides health services to communities where medical services are scarce. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Rani Viroja’s eye-opening moment came when she saw patients having their teeth pulled without a local anesthetic and expressing gratitude after the procedure.

She worked in a medical clinic in rural Nicaragua, where doctors didn’t have enough medication to cover the 300 patients they treated every day.

“I saw rotting, brown teeth, but patients could only be numbed so much,” said Viroja, a pre-dental student studying in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern. “And yet, they sat through the painful process of getting multiple teeth pulled.”

At end of the excruciating procedure, Viroja said the patients smiled, grateful for the treatment they received after walking miles to receive the much-needed medical care.

Viroja is president of Northeastern University’s Global Medical Brigade, one of dozens of student-run chapters around the world that provide health services to disadvantaged communities.

NU Global Medical Brigade is currently focused on providing healthcare to rural communities in Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras, where medical services are scarce.

Northeastern students treat a patient in Nicaragua. Courtesy photo.

Students who join the brigade do a seven-day stint in either a medical or dental unit. They measure vital signs and digitally record patient history in the clinic’s triage station and assist in the pharmacy under the direction of licensed pharmacists.

On the fourth day of the weeklong program in Nicaragua, the brigade created a public health fair called “Charla” to teach patients the importance of dental care.

“Charla means ‘chat’ in Spanish, so it was very interactive,” said Mia Sherer, who is the treasurer of the NU Global Medical Brigade. “We gave the children toothbrushes and showed them how to brush their teeth using stuffed animals.”

Viroja and Sherer are responsible for booking flights, connecting students with local doctors, and raising money for the seven-day trip to Panama scheduled in March 2019.

The trip costs $3,500 per student $2,000 covers transportation and lodging, while $1,500 goes toward collecting over-the-counter medicine that is distributed to patients at the clinic.

NU Global Medical Brigade is part of Northeastern’s “Give, Inspire, and Transform campaign to raise money for student groups dedicated to improving the lives of people in local communities.

“The goal is to create a sustainable community,” Viroja said. “We’re really there to help them help themselves, because our hope is, that eventually, they won’t need us to come back.”

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