Hoya Citings: Students research Internet usage in Rio’s favelas
This is the third part of our Vox series called “Hoya Citings” in which we feature Georgetown students’ research projects and pursuits in academia. Last week we profiled a student who researched foot-and-mouth disease at a laboratory in China.
As International Health majors in the Nursing and Health School, Alexandra Melo (NHS ’13) and Ally Noyes (NHS ’13), were required to spend the first semester of their senior year in a developing country having a “practical experience” in the international health field. They are working at a public health clinic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that serves a low-income population.
However, they are not simply spending time in the clinic and shadowing doctors. The two are also conducting a research project for their thesis which investigates how the Internet impacts a person’s health, through surveys and on-site interviews of patients in the clinic.
“Our hypothesis is that people who use the Internet more and are better connected are going to have a better perception of their own health, going to be more compliant with medicine, and be more regular with doctor’s visits,” Noyes said. “We’re kind of looking at this whole psycho-social model of health and how the interent is influencing that.”
The clinic is located in a “flavela,” or slum, where almost half of the residents own computers and almost all have access to the Internet. When observing this trend, the two thought it was a truly compelling research project. While other studies have been done on correlations between Internet access and health, they have mostly taken place in developed countries like the United States. The pair hope to break some new ground by preforming their study in an impoverished area.
“What’s valuable about [our research] is that we’re going to hopefully see a new way to approach health problems,” Melo said. “[This is] a new strategy and something that is exciting. It hasn’t een explored in this context.”
They will go about their study in two ways. The first part of the approach constitutes a qualitative analysis with surveys of people who frequent the clinic. Noyes will be in charge of this section of the project.
“There are three blocks to the questionnaire: demographic info such as male or female and education level… health perception including physical health, emotional and mental health, and also medicine adherence… and how they connect to general internet resources like facebook and email and use health information websites,” Noyes added.
Noyes will then tabulate the results of the survey to get statistics for the population concerning the blocks covered by the questionnaire.
Melo is taking over the qualitative side of the research. She will be following doctors as they make home visits to patients and conducting in-person interviews about internet usage and health perception. She hopes that by doing the interviews in the subject’s homes they will be more successful.
“I won’t be a stranger, it’s in their territory,” Melo said. “They’ll feel more comfortable answering questions and I can see for myself what conditions they live in and make my own judgement.”
Melo will be asking similar questions to those present on the survey but according to Noyes, “I’ll get the numbers and Ale is going to get the why behind those numbers.”
The two will spend the rest of the semester in Brazil completing their project and are looking forward to seeing results from all of their work.
“[We hope to] tap into a new way to treat people,” said Melo, “As our advisor said to us, Internet isn’t mass media yet but it’s almost there. If you can create a link between Internet and health, then that’s really powerful.”
Photo courtesy of Alexandra Melo