Alexa Bisinger Offered Fulbright Scholarship to Study in Ecuador
Alexa Bisinger, a senior biochemistry major at Occidental College, has been offered a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study women’s health issues in Ecuador.
The Naperville, Ill., resident and 2000 graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy will spend 10 months researching how cultural and social factors influence women’s healthcare decisions, including whether their choices contribute to the South American nation’s higher-than-average mortality rate among women who are pregnant or giving birth. Despite the presence of modern health care facilities and services in Ecuador, the World Health Organization reports that one of every 120 women die during pregnancy or childbirth (compared to one in 4,100 in industrialized countries).
“Ecuador faces a large-scale public health problem,” Bisinger said. “Recent data suggest that improved health care services and access to health care do not amount to improved levels of health. Despite guaranteed reproductive health care services, government care providers attend to only 30 percent of the births in Ecuador, and a recent study shows that villages with ready access to health care facilities have a comparable or worse level of health than villages with no access. I hypothesize that cultural factors fuel this underutilization both directly and indirectly.”
Bisinger will study the role of midwives in Ecuador, in addition to volunteering and making observations at a maternity clinic. Through patient interviews, she will gather data about the types of women who use the various services. Bisinger also plans to investigate traditional remedies and visit folk healers known as curanderos. Finally, she will participate in clinical rotations in rural clinics and in a mobile surgery unit.
“My observations and interviews during my first six months will help me select a specific issue to address during the latter four months – such as investigating a correlation between maternal age and choice of childbirth health care provider,” Bisinger said. “I hope this research will provide insight into some of the underlying causes of the current health crisis in Ecuador as well as clues leading to possible solutions.”
Jeffrey Tobin, assistant professor of anthropology, said Bisinger is well suited for the work ahead. “Alexa embodies the virtues of a liberal arts education,” Tobin said. “Though she majored in biochemistry and successfully completed the course of study required to attend medical school, she also excelled in classes in women’s studies/gender studies and anthropology.”
Bisinger ultimately wants to earn a joint medical degree and master’s in public health. She joins Occidental seniors Alani Price of Sagle, Idaho, and Margaret Yew of Los Angeles in receiving a Fulbright Scholarship this year. This is the first time that three Occidental students have received the award – which covers travel, education and living expenses – in a single year. The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.