Training local farmers and villagers in remote locations was “the most sustainable way to be involved”

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This spring, 100 farmers and villagers throughout Belize underwent training in lifesaving Stop the Bleed techniques. The training was provided by a team led by medical students in the Global Surgery Student Alliance at the University at Buffalo, who made the trip during their spring break.

As a result, many more Belizeans now know how to quickly control bleeding, a critical tool for these populations that live far from health care facilities. In just a week, the team of Buffalo and Rochester-based students, nurses and physicians traveled to five different locations in rural Belize to do the training.

The trip was so successful that the UB students working with the Rochester-based nonprofit organization InterVol will return to Belize in the fall to continue their rural medical education program. Interested students should contact InterVol directly.

A program of the American College of Surgeons, Stop the Bleed has trained nearly 4 million worldwide. (May was national Stop the Bleed month.)

The idea for the Belize trip started with Rachel Yerden, a second-year student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, who had been working with InterVol, an organization that repurposes unused extra medical supplies to global areas of need. By January of this year, Yerden and others at UB had managed to donate to the organization hundreds of pounds of overstocked medical supplies from Buffalo health facilities.

Upon arrival in Belize City, Yerden (top center) first held a Stop the Bleed class for all the InterVol volunteers on the trip.

Training the local population

They started to discuss a possible global health clinic. Rather than only provide direct clinical care for a finite period of time, the global health community is now more focused on finding ways to equip local health workers and citizens with tools and training so that the benefits remain long after the traveling health professionals have left.

“We wondered, what’s the most sustainable way for us to be involved?” Yerden says. “We knew teaching was highly sought after in these communities, but we didn’t know what we could teach because we are just students.”

But once they discussed the medical disparities experienced by people in rural Belize with Belizean health care workers, it became clear that one of the biggest causes of morbidity and mortality was the inability to get severely injured people treated because of their remote locations. It quickly became apparent that “Stop the Bleed” training would go a long way toward saving lives.

Individual workers on farms use machetes to chop down bananas, says Yerden, so in addition to cuts and repetitive-use injuries like tennis elbow, severe lacerations can be a major problem.

‘Exactly the thing we can help with’

“Someone might get injured from a machete but if they’re five miles into a banana farm, they are too far from help and could easily bleed to death without any intervention,” she says. “It was really exciting because we realized that those kinds of injuries were exactly the thing we could help with.”

Before applying to medical school, Yerden had been certified as a Stop the Bleed instructor when she was Emergency Medical Services chief in her small upstate town of Varna, New York. She now provides the training to Buffalo schools and through organizations, such as the Jacobs School’s White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL).

InterVol was on board with the idea and helped connect Yerden with emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in Belize. Yerden organized and led the trip with Seth Baker, another second-year student in the Jacobs School. Buffalo and Rochester-based health professionals, including those from InterVol, went on the trip as well.

Upon arrival in Belize City, Yerden, who happens to be fluent in Spanish, taught the first class for the volunteers on the trip, as well some local EMTs. That training certified 10 physicians and EMTs who travelled with the group throughout the week and helped train additional people in the five villages they visited: Trio, San Isidro, Maya Mopan, Santa Cruz and Maya Center.

These Belizeans are now certified as instructors for Stop the Bleed, who will, in turn, train more people in their respective communities.

Yerden said one thing she was most proud of was the eclectic group of people they trained on the trip. “I taught classes to cacao farmers, banana farmers, families, elementary school teachers, children and health care workers,” she says. “Most of them knew a family member or neighbor who had experienced a traumatic injury that caused excessive blood loss, so they were very engaged with the material.”

Because of the frequency of traumatic injuries, nearly all the farmers said they had had an experience where they had tried to tourniquet a co-worker. But often a tourniquet was applied improperly or used when another technique would have been sufficient, and in some cases that may have caused harm.

“So the farmers had excellent questions about how to distinguish between a wound that should be tourniquetted and one that shouldn’t be,” Yerden says. “The point of Stop the Bleed is, if something happens, at least you have the tools to deal with it.”