CSU Long Beach -- October 31, 2003

Professor, Students from Cal State Long Beach Take Trip to Brazil for Health Care Research

Gina Piane won’t take no for an answer.

The associate professor of health science at California State University, Long Beach was told she could not take her students to Kenya in 2003 to study Third World health care because a State Department travel warning deemed the terrorist threat too great.

All right then, make it Brazil.

In four days, Piane organized a two-week trip to the enormous South American nation that took 10 CSULB students from Sao Paolo, the third-largest city on earth, to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, home to many of Brazil’s most dangerous drug lords.

“This was my first trip to Brazil,” Piane said. With the help of a former colleague from Northern Illinois University where she worked for 12 years, she got her own answers to some of the top issues in health care in the developing nations.

“We toured Sao Paolo first and were just overwhelmed by the sheer urban weight,” she recalled. “We left for Rio after only a few days and we were treated very well.” The students and she visited health care institutes that gave their reasons why Brazil broke the AZT patent to fight AIDS, as well as trips to hospitals and a health education site for Brazilian children.

One of the trip’s peak experiences was a tour of several Rio favelas. “It reminded me of growing up on the West side of Chicago because that’s where the drug lords live and therefore were some of the safest neighborhoods in town,” she explained.

The students and she walked through shantytowns where electricity is filched in knots of wiring and communities of squatters build houses on top of each other.

“We saw non-governmental agencies that provided free day care and after school care for favela children,” she noted. “We were impressed by how hard these agencies worked to help the children finish their educations.” Next stop was Porto Allegra where military hospitals explained the influence of the US DARE program and how it helped law enforcement educate Brazilians about health care.

She came away from the visit impressed by what she saw as the compassion of Brazilian health care. “They are not just concerned about the bottom line. Just look at the AZT patent breakthrough. They would not stand around while Brazilians died,” she said. “And I was pleased by the quality of dental care. Forty years ago, the Brazilians were known as the people without teeth. Now, with more dentists per capita than we have in the United States, that is changing.”

Piane is anxious to return to Brazil. “I’d like to see the flip side of the country and travel the Amazon,” she said. But her wanderlust will not be slaked by a second glimpse of Rio. “I want to visit Kenya because I feel I owe an educational tour there to the Kenyans who expected me this year,” she said. “I also want to visit Yemen to train Yemenis in traditional birth attendance.”

Piane received her B.A., M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. from the University of Illinois in Chicago, earning a doctorate in public health with an emphasis in health education and chronic disease. She is an expert in international health, health promotion, the treatment of drug addiction, patterns of drug use and epidemiology.

Media Contacts: Rick Gloady, 562/985-5454; Shayne Schroeder, 562/985-1727

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