UH medical students take part in international TB eradication project

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Contact:
Tina Shelton, (808) 554-2586
Director of Communications, Office of Dean of Medicine
Posted: May 19, 2017

Members of Team A of the program on Bigej Island, an island north of Ebeye Island.
Members of Team A of the program on Bigej Island, an island north of Ebeye Island.
Dr. Yusuke Kobayashi and Orlando Salazar, an X-ray volunteer from Lanakila Health Center, in Ebeye.
Dr. Yusuke Kobayashi and Orlando Salazar, an X-ray volunteer from Lanakila Health Center, in Ebeye.

Medical students from the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) traveled more than 2,500 miles to help fight tuberculosis (TB) in Ebeye, the most populated island of Kwajalein Atoll, and one of three “hotspots” for tuberculosis in the Pacific region identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

The massive TB screening program was launched last year with registration and record collection. Then UH Mānoa medical students entered the scene: On the ground for three weeks, they helped to screen some 5,600 residents of Ebeye in the Marshall Islands’ largest-ever effort ever to eradicate the disease.

TB is a bacterial infection that can be fatal. It most often attacks the lungs and can be spread through coughs, but it can also harm other organs.

Class of 2017 medical students Nash Witten and Yusuke Kobayashi were joined by their faculty advisor, Dr. Seiji Yamada of the JABSOM Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, along with teams of health workers, regional Pacific TB staff, international volunteers, and representatives from the CDC and World Health Organization.

“The members of our team, like us, were volunteers. They were from Australia, India, Palau, RMI and the states of Nevada, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Washington," said Witten, who graduated as an MD this month.  “The team consisted of four physicians, a TB nurse, two TB program coordinators, an X-ray technician from Lanakila Health Center, and the two of us UH students.”

Funding for the JABSOM students’ travel to the Marshall Islands came from the medical school’s Hawaiʻi Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center, which supports efforts to train future health care workers for Hawai’i and the Pacific.

The large-scale TB screening program may influence future efforts to fight TB.  For future physicians Witten and Kobayashi, the benefit was more immediate. They helped thousands of Pacific island neighbors, people who were openly grateful for their effort.

“As we walked every day to the Leroij Kitlang Memorial Health Center where we worked, along the way were met with many friendly greetings of 'Yokwe' (the Marshallese word for hello or goodbye) from Ebeye Island residents we passed on the street,” said Witten.

To get a sense of the rural Ebeye community, watch a :20 video of a parade held to kick off the TB screening program.

For more information, visit: http://jabsom.hawaii.edu/hawaii-medical-students-journey-to-the-marshall-is