Having a Little Faith

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Faith comes in many forms; we see faith in a higher power, faith in our families, and faith in our friends. Something that strikes me about Costa Rica is their faith in local government. Today, I spent the morning going door to door around a neighborhood looking at people’s homes for possible criaderos, or dengue mosquito breeding spots, a public health effort found in many parts of the country that aims to eliminate dengue from the area.

The species that transmits dengue, Aedus Aegypti, prefers breeding in dark places in still water. Places like tanks in the back patio, discarded or broken toys that collect water in their crevices, and discarded tires make the perfect nest. To eliminate dengue in Costa Rica, the primary focus is on the elimination of these criaderos. While the public work to raise awareness in schools, by health professionals, and on television and radio are excellent, the Ministry of Health in this region also does regular home visits to inspect the house for possible breeding sites and to help fix any problems that they come across. This helps to reach families that may not have regular access to television or doctors, and also serves as a reminder and perhaps a social pressure to those that already are well-informed about the steps you can take within your home to prevent criaderos.

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This paint tray, discarded in a backyard, is a perfect breeding spot for the Aedes Aegypti. The ministry worker suggested that they move this indoors so that it could not collect water, or to store it upside down.

As we walked around the neighborhood, I saw that most people simply invited us to enter their homes. The worker that I was following actually prefers for the landlord of the house to walk around with him; this is so that he can explain what he is looking for, and have them show him around the house. Some residents preferred to allow him to search the house alone, which I found interesting because of the general distrust for most strangers in the United States. Steffen (another Temple student) and I explained that it would be very rare for us to allow a person to enter our house and search it, even if they were from the local government. It was interesting to consider the history of our own country, and the culture of distrust and autonomy that we tend to prefer, or at least conform to. Only one woman did not permit us to enter her house, as she was in the process of cleaning and had her children playing on the front patio as to not disturb the process. She was, however, very happy to receive the poison that the ministry worker provided to her in a cup she brought out and handed him through the gate, clarifying its use. This powder is put in standing water like that used to grow plants, and is a similar composition to the food that the mosquito larvae like to eat. Although this is only effective in the larvae stage, he says its use is extremely beneficial to prevention efforts and that the poison is not particularly harmful to humans when used properly.

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It can be easier to initiate a recycling program in a setting like a hospital, where these beautiful recycling bins with traditional Costa Rican art are found in many departments.

Much of the work that is done in the home focuses on reminders about criaderos but the ministry worker also talked to families about the importance of recycling (as opposed to allowing certain materials to build up in the house or throwing them away). Here, to recycle plastics and aluminum you must bring them to the town center once a month, when the trucks come from the nearest large city to collect recycling from this entire region. Although they do have curbside trash pick-up, the ministry worker explained that adults in the area often find it a hassle to separate their recycling from trash, so no plan has been implemented in that way. There is no incentive program for recycling products, but each month the area does collect a huge amount of recycling, for love, as the worker put it. In the future, the ministry hopes to start a program where children bring their recycling to school for more frequent collection, although this has not been implemented yet. He hopes that the next generation will both see this as an important practice and be accustomed to recycling. The idea is that they will implement curbside collection and more innovative solutions in the near future, and the perhaps they will be able to offer an incentive program if the state gets behind their efforts; right now, as a local project, they do not have the funds to offer such benefits.

This trust and sense of collective effort towards public health missions is a beautiful sense of collaboration that I hope to see more in my future.

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