Alumna uses public health education to help children, elderly in Guatemala

November 22, 2013 by Daniel Eddy | CPH Intern
Categories: Alumni, MPH, Global Health, Community, HBHP, Cancer, Infectious Disease

Alumna uses public health education to help children, elderly in Guatemala

Amy Petrocy is surrounded by children when she goes to work at a preschool, but even when she goes back to her office she continues to have children within arm’s reach while working at her computer.

Petrocy, ’13 Master of Public Health alumna, works for a non-governmental organization called Mayan Families for which she helps to develop, monitor and evaluate nutrition programs in Guatemala.

Part of her work includes overseeing seven preschools and monitoring the health and nutrition of the children at the schools. A few of these children live at the organization’s office. The program is set up to identify the children who are most malnourished and supply them with a proper diet.

The assistance Petrocy helps provide is desperately needed as the chronic undernutrition rate for children under five years of age is 49.8 percent, the highest in the region and the fourth highest in the world, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

As a family aid coordinator, Petrocy will also deal with the elderly.

“I am kind of on both ends of the spectrum,” she said. “I have kids that are 12 days old, and adults up to 89 (years old) or so.”

Petrocy said it can be challenging to find support for the elderly as opposed to children.

“People see a picture of a cute kid and they want to donate to that,” Petrocy said. “But then they see an old person and say ‘ah they are going to die anyway,’ and they already have so many problems that people find it hopeless.”

Petrocy loves working with the elderly even if it is difficult to care for them at times, and enjoys visiting them in their homes.

“They’re cool people – they remind me of my grandparents back in the states,” she said.

Petrocy first went to Guatemala after completing her undergraduate degree and lived there for a year. She loved Guatemala so much that when it came time to conduct her research and practicum for her graduate degree at Ohio State, she knew she wanted to do it in Guatemala.

“The practicum experience was very valuable to me and the fact I was able to do my practicum abroad was really helpful,” she said.

She said Ohio State was very accommodating to allow her to do both her required practicum and research out of the country.

Mary Ellen Wewers, professor of health behavior and health promotion, interim chair for the Division of Epidemiology, and Petrocy’s advisor, said Petrocy’s work ethic and attitude are what helps her stand out in her field.

“She is a very positive person who is genuinely concerned about the health of the residents of Guatemala,” she said. “She works tirelessly to improve the public health environment. Her persistence pays off and she has been able to accomplish much in her time since entering graduate school.”

The research Petrocy conducted was to explore knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about cervical cancer, cervical cancer screening, human papillomavirus (HPV), and acceptance of the HPV vaccine among women living in Guatemala, said Mira Katz, associate professor of health behavior and health promotion, who assisted with the culminating project.

“Amy recognized the problem of increased cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates among women in Guatemala,” Katz said. “She planned and conducted a study to better understand factors contributing to this health problem.”

Petrocy has been in Guatemala for the past few months and loves the new challenges and experiences she encounters daily.

“Every day is something different,” Petrocy said. “Every day is something new and exciting and challenging and it is never boring.”

Petrocy and Katz’ paper based on Petrocy’s culminating project is planned for publication in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. 

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 19th among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report, and also includes the top 10-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice, and the NCI-funded Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science (CERTS).

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