Student and Faculty Team Members: Everardo de Lucena Alves Neto, Alana Ghiotto Gonçalves, Arthur Amaral de Souza, Rossimara Nóbrega da Luz, José Marmo Victor Bezerra de Souza, Rafael André Soares de Almeida, Priscylla de Almeida, Diana Rosado Lopes Fernandes, Maísa Suares Teixeira Moraes, Melyssa Lima de Medeiros.
A group of seven students at the Universidade Potiguar (UnP) in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil were among the first responders to the effects of Zika in the area, and their efforts are helping families near and far. When Zika came to Brazil in early 2015, no one knew what the effects would be. It quickly became evident that one of the most shocking results was an uptick in the instances of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes neurological damage, in babies born to pregnant women affected by Zika.
Students from different departments and disciplines at UnP were galvanized by the public health crisis in the state and went to their institution to inquire about launching a special initiative to help families with children born with microcephaly. Along with three teachers from the school of health at UnP, the initiative was integrated into the already existent clinic on campus at the institution in 2016. They began to see families and their children, providing access to services across a variety of disciplines, addressing the many challenges that come with having a child born with microcephaly.
“To know that we were able to have a vision and begin helping people, while responding to a major crisis in our country is a dream come true,” said Everardo de Lucena Alves Neto, a student of dentistry at UnP. The project has since gained the support of the municipal and state health secretaries in Rio Grande do Norte, and patients are coming from across the state to receive care for their children. They have already completed more than 600 consultations through the initiative.
Microcephaly caused by Zika is not a known quantity, and the services that the project is able to provide to families relieve the emotional and financial burden of dealing with the uncertainty brought on by the condition. In one stop, families are able to access physical therapy, speech therapy, nursing, nutrition, dentistry, psychology, and social work services.
“We want our students to know that they can be social entrepreneurs in Brazil and help to transform lives and bring changes to our communities,” said Maísa Suares Teixeira, the Coordinator of the UnP Health Center. With the initiative taken by her students, it seems students are learning to do just that.