Students Research Health-Related Internet Use, HIV/AIDS in Brazil

NOVEMBER 4, 2013 - Senior international health majors Estefania Konarek (NHS’14) and Stephanie Muci (NHS’14) are conducting research in Brazil this semester as part of the Department of International Health’s practical experience abroad program.

The undergraduates are working at FIOCRUZ, a scientific institution in Rio de Janeiro.  Konarek is analyzing epidemiological data for an HIV/AIDS research project, and Muci is studying how young adults use the Internet to seek health information.

Both say they are enjoying the experience.  “With my internship, I’ve gotten to interact with so many great people, especially the doctors and nurses that really care about their patients and the community,” says Muci.

HIV/AIDS Research

“My knowledge of [Brazil’s health care system] has broadened by interacting and forming bonds with physicians, researchers, health workers, and community members at FIOCRUZ,” adds Konarek.

She is working on an epidemiological research project that looks at the timing of diagnosis of the population living with HIV/AIDS who utilize a local health center.

“My research will be focused on analyzing late presentation in HIV/AIDS diagnosis and associating it with socio-demographic factors of the population,” Konarek says.  “Brazil offers comprehensive and free anti-retroviral treatment, and many lives could be prolonged if those diagnosed with HIV are detected at the earlier stages of the viral infection.”

Internet Usage

At the same time, Muci is planning to survey youth, ages 18-25, to understand their Internet behavior related to health topics.

“I am conducting research on the health-seeking behavior of young adults on the Internet,” she says.  “A recent study was released that showed that a majority of Brazilians use the Internet – both the rich and the poor.”

Through the study, she hopes to determine whether they use the Internet to search for health topics, how they perceive the information they find, and what motivates them to look for it in the first place.

‘Everything Just Makes Sense’

Konarek and Muci say they feel well prepared for the experience thanks to their coursework and professors back at Georgetown.

“All of our classes and all of the knowledge just really comes together during this experience abroad,” Muci says.  “Everything just makes sense now, and I know why I needed to learn what I’ve learned.”

Konarek points to interdisciplinary classes in health economics, health systems, demography, epidemiology, and microbiology.

“The classes and opportunities available are countless and enriching,” she says.  “The quality of teaching and professors with extensive international experience make this major a unique one.”

Active Students

The students have been very active during their time at Georgetown.  Muci served as a peer mentor program chair for the Georgetown Scholarship Program and participated in Rangila – the South Asian Society’s annual dance festival.  She is also a member of Georgetown’s chapter of the American Public Health Association and works with Globemed, a non-profit that addresses health disparities.

“I love Georgetown and its endless opportunities,” she says.  “It has given me so many great memories and has helped pave the way for my success.  However, this semester abroad has made me realize just how much I miss the Hilltop, so I can’t even begin to think of how I will feel after graduation.”

Konarek has been involved with the organization Learning Enterprises, through which she has traveled to Poland and Thailand to teach English-based classes in the summer.  She has interned at the Spanish Catholic Center, worked with the university’s Center for Intercultural Education and Development, and helped teach literacy skills to Latino children through the AmeriCorps Jumpstart program.

“Georgetown has provided me with opportunities I would have never encountered elsewhere,” she says.  “I can’t describe how grateful I am for undertaking my undergraduate studies in this prestigious university. I am surely living a dream, especially now that I am working with FIOCRUZ in Brazil.”

By Bill Cessato