Demystifying diabetes in Argentina

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In Argentina, seeing suffering from diabetes is not unusual, and many have needlessly lost limbs and lives.

Travis Griffiths, a Spanish major preparing for medical school, spent the last six months preparing his senior project: a trip to Argentina to

establish a means of diabetes education.

“They know so little about diabetes,” Griffiths said. “What they do know comes from

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 10.56.10 AMJust days before Griffiths’ arrival, the Argentinean president announced that diabetes is “a problem of the rich” due to sedentary lifestyles with access to too much food, explaining that the poor need not worry about diabetes. Griffiths said that is only one of many misconceptions about diabetes in Argentina.

“In one of the classes a woman raised her hand and asked what she could do to prevent diabetes,” Griffiths said. “We explained about risk factors and preventative measures. She then asked how to avoid catching the disease from someone who already has it. She really believed it was contagious.”

Having lived in Argentina before, Griffiths saw the need for diabetes education. His original plan was to find a team of doctors and go to Argentina for a week.

“That’s a very American attitude, I learned,” Griffiths said. “To think that we can go to a very poor place, throw money at a problem and it’ll work itself out.”

Griffiths then decided to do things a little differently; he decided that a more effective method would be to involve the experts already living there.

“It may not have been as beneficial for me and my career as it could have been,” Griffiths said. “But it was beneficial for them. If I had walked in with a lot of American doctors and made it about me, once we left it would have been over, but this way they still have the connections and the materials they need to propagate education further.”

When Griffiths was in the early planning stages he considered doing something smaller, on a local scale.

“I had the idea to go to Argentina, but it seemed so far-fetched,” Griffiths said. “But working with Kate [McPherson], my project advisor, it started to feel like a real possibility.”

Dr. Kate McPherson, director of the UVU Honors Program, worked with Griffiths to turn his senior project into something that could have great impact.

“He didn’t want to write a paper,” McPherson said. “He wanted to do something that really matters, that would actually help people. And there is something to be gained from doing something experiential. Giving students project management skills is monumental; giving them the opportunity to show that they can navigate complex avenues to get an outcome is so very valuable.”

Griffiths credits a great deal of the success of his project to McPherson’s help.

“I feel like I owe Kate a lot,” Griffiths said. “She really made this happen for me.  She didn’t push or do the work for me, she let me do it, she let me take the steps myself.”

McPherson’s goal when working with students is to provide them with options, help them see what’s available, but make sure they are doing the work themselves.

“He had to open the doors himself,” McPherson said. “I merely pointed out the doors he could go through. “

Griffiths said that he got an insight into what opportunities are available here at UVU, which is something he didn’t realize before. He was able to travel to Argentina for a week while paying nothing out of pocket, receiving grants from various UVU departments.

“There are so many amazing opportunities here,” McPherson said. “I was an impressive student, I could have gone to some fancy school back east, but I chose to go the University of New Mexico.  It may not have been Harvard, but I knew if I sought out the best professors and looked for opportunities I could replicate the education of a big name school. Students can do that here if they seek out those amazing opportunities.”