Juliana's Take on research 6/7/18

The Why

In 2014 PAHO reported a 3 percent proportional mortality relative to infectious and parasitic diseases in Ecuador. However, in 2016 after an earthquake a noticeable spike in Zika and other vector-borne illnesses were observed; with a steady growth in population this a major concern.  

It is two years post-earthquake and dengue is still on the rise. 

So why am I here? Through a collaborative project with community members I am here as a volunteer with Walking Palms to conduct vector surveillance. Implementing citizen science, each one teaches one while working directly with Juanito and Leonela, two young adults in the Bellavista community in Bahia de Caraquez to assess abandoned homes for the presence of Aedes Aegypti mosquitos using adult and egg trapping techniques. 

How?

Training for BG Sentinel assembly as well as Ovitraps were very brief yet in-depth. We (my colleague Jake and I) were prepared for what would be foreseen as a wonderful experience in the field to ascertain the presence of our disease carrying critters as well as analyze our samples for the presence of Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika viruses, DENV, CHIKV and ZIKV.  

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The fun part!

BG traps were left in the field for a twenty-four hour period after which collections occurred. The little guys captured were stored in the cooler in my hand when their curiosity allowed them to donate themselves to science!

Field life!

The last week has been amazing, we established our controls without a carbon source and have now been using a yeast mixture with sugar as its food source to generate carbon dioxide to attract mosquitos. 

This has up to this point proven to be very effective in attracting them, today in particular while collecting the BG Sentinel traps Juanito was rudely attacked by an Aedes Aegypti scouring the area for her next blood meal! Vicious!

Progress

It's the middle of a new week and that is always great! Perfect weather conditions and the anticipation of surveilling three new houses.  Boy has today proved to be very interesting! We got to the Leonela’s house and Juanito pointed to the BG traps with a surprised yet apprehensive look on his face, only to realize he was showing me that bees (las abejas)  had engulfed las trampas, oh my!

Thankfully there’s another organization within Bahia de Caraquez  rearing bees and were very enthusiastic to collect them. It turns out our sugar yeast mixtures were not only attracting mosquitos but also other frequent flyers within the vicinity!

Reflecting

The most difficult element in this wonderful experience is the language barrier. Juanito and Leonela  are wonderful, they are patient and respond extremely well to my pointing and acting out scenes  but it would be so much easier if my Spanish was better.  The use of a translation app is also helpful so our conservations are evolving. Still, I am extremely grateful for the responses from the community! They too, much like Juanito and Leonela are more than willing to engage in conservations with me even though most of the time they probably equate my conservational Spanish with that of a four-year-old, yet we exchange and I'm grateful. 

Its humbling to have myself come from a developing nation and to be here working in Bellavista Ecuador post-earthquake. I know too well the effects of a natural disaster on communities having experienced a plethora of hurricanes in my lifetime.

To date, my only regret is that butterfly that was captured in a trap and was also sacrificed in the name of science.

Jake's Account of the Field 7/4/18

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As an undergraduate biology student in California unique field work involving the trapping and collection of mosquitos is a rare opportunity. The initial experience was even more novel for me having never had field research experience or much of any research experience before. Let alone an active field research project in a developing country involving multiple institutions of research and government appendages. The little expectations I had about the field research I would be conducting completely shatter upon the initial day in the field. Everything was orchestrated and organized well by my brilliant PI (principle investigator)  Avriel Diaz but I soon learned you can’t always predict how things will play out once you are deep in the field.  

So far our field research has been conducted in Bella Vista, a community that is a beautiful coastal walk away from the main city of Bahia de Caraquez. The location of Bella Vista, which means beautiful view, would easily cost $2 million dollars in California for the incredible view alone. It rests above sloping marine bluffs engulf by bountiful tropical dry forests. The community slopes and molds into the geologic and floral features of the area it resides in.

These first couple weeks we have been setting and collecting Ovi traps (mosquito egg traps) and adult mosquito traps in Bella Vista. I didn’t have much expectations for the communities we would be working in which I think allowed me to be open to and adapt to certain unfavorable conditions. The first few days in the field with the whole team went relatively smoothly. There were a few hiccups with verifying the data point locations, with faulty trap wiring, and a local boy commandeering the mesh component of our trap touting them as “chonies”. We were accompanied by a seasoned Ecuadorian MMA fighter who was born and raised in Bella Vista. Juanito was an extremely helpful and comforting presence because I didn’t have a good understanding of the community and it’s intricate foot path systems.

After the first few days of our field research routine our PI felt confident in our abilities for us to brave the field on our own. Which I agreed with, the trap setting protocol was simple enough; find the abandoned house, reference the GPS, describe the house and it’s conditions, and set the traps. The first forty minutes in the field on our first day on our own was a bit rocky, locating the new abandoned houses to set the ovitraps was a bit tricky at first. Our guide Juanito only spoke Spanish, talked rapidly, and seemed to be under the impression that I understood everything he said. But after going over it a few times, referring to the GPS, and clarifying a few things we ended finding all the necessary houses.

In my time working in Bella Vista I’ve grown accustomed to its challenges, curiosity, and charm. It’s always difficult to run active field research in a community with many inhabitants because there are always changes and variables you need to account for. In one of the abandoned houses the owner had started to repair a whole wall of the house, but during the time he was repairing it a large portion of the house was exposed changing the conditions of the traps.

Another challenge, as well as a charm in a sense, was the constant presence of stray, semi-stray semi-owned, and guard dogs. Always curious, some dogs would follow us on end constantly sniffing us and our equipment. One of the houses we frequently set traps in has a white, ferocious, small dog that was known for biting. Everyone was weary of this dog including our guide who was a veteran fighter. The only one who could tame this dog was an eight year boy name Mario. Whenever blanquito would act up Mario would shout “Blanco!” while waving a warning stick the size of his body. When that wouldn’t work he would simply hop on the dog, wrestle with him a little, and lock the dog’s neck between his legs. Mario seemed to enjoy his control over blanquito. When he had blanquito in his leg hold Mario would play blanquito like his own little instrument by playfully tugging on blanquito’s ear forcing him let out a little whelp with each tug. We always felt much safer with Mario’s small but commanding presence.

It was always enjoyable to tend to the resident’s curiosity by explaining what we were doing here, how we where doing it, and why it was necessary. After a few days the people of Bella Vista were very warming and welcoming offering us sincere greetings.

After the initial challenges of the first couple of weeks our team has become very adaptable and resilient to changing conditions and obstacles of our field research. We have been able to collect a significant amount of mosquitoes and have discover promising methods for obtaining the amount we desire. With our functional team and helpfulness of the community the rest of the our field work should go smoothly.

Trip to Junco 6/22/18

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Today we went to Junco, a village 30 minutes from downtown Bahia and continued with the second day of our new music therapy initiative with the kids. Junco is a community filled with kind hearts and beautiful smiles, but stricken with poverty, HIV, alcoholism, and domestic violence; it also receives little government aid and funding.The goal of our music therapy is to inspire leadership, attentiveness, behavior, self confidence and create a safe space for open discussion for kids around the ages of 6-8. This pilot  project will occur over 10 weeks, meeting once every Friday.

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When we arrived, the kids slowly started to appear running over at full speed cuadernos in hand. We started out with deep breathing, then drew our feelings. After that we sang and danced, and then learned about rhythms, then sang and danced some more. Every kid got a chance to try rhythms out on a drum, cheers and laughter accompanying every attempt. After this, we engaged in a group meditation and breathing exercise, and then a large group hug. Then the kids were asked to draw their feelings again. The difference in between their drawings was very encouraging to see, while most of the drawings in the beginning were of the kids themselves with their name on the bottom of the page, by the end the drawings consisted of the children with their friends, with words like super, feliz, and allegro.