Magazine Feature / People

Alumna changes the way health care is delivered in Peru

Katrina Berg (MA ’07) put her international development and global health studies to the test last summer in Peru.

Her work there garnered her the first Global Health Summer Achievement Award from DU’s Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS). Eight global health affairs students entered the competition and gave presentations on their work, which covered a variety of health issues on several continents. Berg was awarded $1,000 for her work, which outlined a better way to deliver health care to rural Peruvians.

Berg’s summer internship with Colorado-based health care provider Centura Health called for determining the needs of villagers living on the Amazon and Napo rivers. One village was 15 miles from a hospital — about a three-hour trip on the river; the other was 90 miles from the capitol — a six- to eight-hour upriver journey. Berg says the region has “health posts” an hour away, but the nurse or technician staffing the post can’t make diagnoses.

She conducted interviews with 125 women about their family’s health and most recent visit to health care facilities. She learned that treatments readily available, such as worm medicine and antibiotics, weren’t what most people needed. The more pressing need was for laboratories so illnesses could be properly diagnosed and treated.

Berg says villagers might get antibiotics or painkillers without knowing what kind of illness they’re suffering from.

“They’re not able to know what’s going on so they progress to a more severe situation. They wait too long and then die before they can get the proper health care,” Berg says.

One of the most surprising things Berg learned was that about half the Peruvians she spoke with didn’t realize their children were insured through a government health care program put into place two years ago.

Berg worked with adviser Randall Kuhn, an assistant professor in GSIS, to design the surveys she used in Peru and analyze the data.

“He’s just been there for any stage since the beginning,” Berg says.

Kuhn encouraged Berg to apply for the internship because he says he sensed in her an interest in research.

He was impressed in her diligence in the entire process — from designing a workable questionnaire and translating it into Spanish to conducting the interviews, translating the data back to English and then entering the results into a database.

“That’s already more than one could expect,” Kuhn says, “but the most impressive part is what comes next, which is producing a set of very clear ideas of what this program needed to do.”

Kuhn says it’s a common assumption that in developing countries the health needs are based on diseases associated with extreme poverty. Berg’s report showed that the assumption was incorrect, and as a result, there were gaps in addressing health needs. The lack of coordination between service providers left people unsure of their health conditions and treatment, unsure whether they’d even been vaccinated.

Centura Health took Berg’s recommendations seriously, Kuhn says.

“Essentially the plan will be a health network that will help existing community resources like local health promoters to get more involved, to help the public get more involved and to help existing health services expand, coordinate and cooperate,” Kuhn says.

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