March 17, 2019

Student Project Aims to Reduce Iron Deficiency in Haiti

Lisa Marie Esser, Southern Tidings

As part of their graduation requirements, students at AdventHealth University (AHU), a Seventh-day Adventist school in Florida, United States, must complete a Capstone Project in their final year. They are free to choose the focus of their study, and many students design their projects around personal passions.

For Melissa Molina, an AHU physician assistant (PA) student, this passion was nutrition, which she had pursued as her bachelor's degree before coming to AHU. This interest led to her involvement in a study intended to help reduce iron-deficiency anemia in communities of Haiti.

As Molina was considering topics for her Capstone Project, her teacher, Ann LeVine, AHU’s PA medical director, connected her with Stacy McConkey, a pediatrician at AdventHealth, and McConkey’s colleague, Catherine Loe. Both women had made several trips to Haiti for mission work. They told Molina about the dietary challenges in Haiti and about a product called Lucky Iron Fish that had been used successfully in other iron-deficient communities.

The Lucky Iron Fish is a small iron cooking tool that is used during the cooking process. It infuses the meal with natural iron and is reusable, making it an affordable way to increase iron in one’s diet. After researching the company and its product, Molina decided that it would be the most cost-effective and safe solution to use for her project.

In order to be able to instruct the cooks in the orphanages she planned to visit, Molina looked for Creole-translated materials from the company that makes Lucky Iron Fish but found that none existed. Her solution was to create an instructional video and printed handouts in Creole with the help of a translator and place them online. The link to the uploaded video could be easily shared.

Rolling Out the Project

From December 3 to 8, 2018, Molina joined Global Missions Initiatives’ Project Operation Sunshine in Haiti, along with Loe, to visit seven orphanages. Molina described her experience as humbling. “The community lacks many basic needs like electricity and the resources needed to access nutritional food sources.” As she had learned from McConkey and Loe, many children were iron deficient.

At each facility they visited, Molina met with cooks and workers to demonstrate how to incorporate the Lucky Iron Fish into their cooking. She showed the instructional video she had created and provided laminated handouts with more information. She worked with an interpreter and distributed surveys after she had finished her demonstrations. She had prepared quizzes for her listeners to confirm they understood the process and could repeat it without her help.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The workers found Molina’s instructions easy to understand and implement. She recounted the emotion she felt when the cooks expressed gratitude for her efforts, thanking her and saying, “God bless you.”

From Theory to Practice

For Molina, it was a new experience to see the results of her work firsthand. She said, “I’ve been busy with school, and most of my work so far was behind the scenes at a computer. It was rewarding to see the real-world impact for myself.”

In addition to her Lucky Iron Fish demonstrations, Molina also performed health check visits under the supervision of attending physicians and medical residents. To complete the research, Molina will return to the orphanages after a year to check the hemoglobin levels of the people there. She has also remained in contact with each facility so that she can be reached if the cooks have questions.

Loe followed up with the company that makes Lucky Iron Fish after the trip, showing them the materials Molina had created. Company representatives were impressed with Molina’s work and expressed interest in sharing her materials through social media and wider distribution channels.

Molina said she is excited to see the project grow. “Creating the video and materials led to more ideas for how we could further develop the project,” she said. “I see myself staying with the project and creating more educational materials for other communities in need.”

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.