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Doctors from U-M, Ghana create new partnerships

June 20, 2014
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In a small coastal town in Ghana, doctors, students and policymakers from the U.S. and Africa gathered for a five-day meeting. Their goal: Strategize about how to strengthen international partnerships to most effectively train more physicians and improve health in the rapidly progressing West African region.

The health issues were critical: Too many moms weren’t surviving childbirth. Newborn health statistics were alarming. Child deaths were too high. But collaborators faced great challenges in working together to address these health issues oceans apart.

They shared experiences from past partnerships aiming to improve health abroad – what worked well and what didn’t. They identified common goals and barriers. Nine months later, a shared vision of partnership was born. Since its creation in 2009, this “charter of collaboration” improved trust, communication and accountability among partners and has become a powerful road map to guide new global health projects, according to a new University of Michigan-authored article in Academic Medicine about an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We know that international academic partnerships have the potential to make monumental breakthroughs in the health of poorer countries, but challenges like distance, communication and cultural differences often become barriers that prevent us from making the greatest impact,” said lead author Frank Anderson, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U-M Medical School.

“Everyone came together – from health professionals to government officials – to co-create a document that allowed us to reinforce our common responsibility to clinical service, research and education on both sides of the ocean.

“We developed a new standard in academic and governmental partnerships that led to significant improvements in relationships and communication, not just between collaborators from different countries but from collaborators within each country as well,” added Anderson, also of the School of Public Health and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. “We believe this is a key step in making our programs as sustainable and impactful as possible.”

The charter builds on more than 20 years of collaboration between U-M, Ghana’s Ministry of Health, University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology.  U-M has helped train and retain more than 85 obstetricians in the country via in-country programs that pool resources and knowledge.

Anderson also leads the “1000+ OB/GYNs in sub-Saharan Africa” initiative, which brings together OB/GYNs from around the world to apply lessons learned from the Michigan-Ghana partnership to other African countries and their partners. The charter has already been used as a teaching tool for the more than 20 American-African university OB/GYN partnerships that aim to train 1000-plus new OB/GYNs in the next 10 years in order to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. These efforts are currently being funded by both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Flora Family Foundation.

“This charter provides the most comprehensive blueprint to date on how to build a strong foundation for international partnerships that may transform not only health delivery but other global initiatives in developing countries,” said Joseph C. Kolars, senior associate dean for Education and Global Initiatives at the U-M Medical School. “This document has already guided many of our global efforts at U-M and we believe it could be adapted to other global programs to help make them more successful as well.”

This story was originally published by the U-M Health System.

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