UAlberta shares expertise with visiting African health professionals

Program aims to deliver healthier outcomes for expectant mothers and their newborns.


They may be far from home, but nine Ethiopian health professionals visiting Alberta this month are benefiting from an up-close look at how Canada provides care to delivering mothers and their newborns. The visitors—guests of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta and Mount Royal University in Calgary—are here to gain insight into Canadian methods, which could then be used or adapted to improve Ethiopia’s referral system for women at risk from difficult deliveries.

“Our health system is relatively young and not well organized yet; we are in the process of upgrading the whole service we provide,” says Dr. Delayehu Bekele. “We will learn a lot—you have a mature service here.”

The visitors include obstetrician/gynecologists, senior nurses, a pediatrician and a midwife. They arrived in Edmonton in mid-September on observerships supported by the Ethio-Canada Maternal, Newborn and Child Health project run by the Division of Community Engagement in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

The federally funded initiative is a five-year collaboration with St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. It focuses on two Ethiopian priorities: improving the teaching skills of senior midwives and upgrading the referral system that ensures patients with complications receive timely support.

Throughout their stay, the guests are gaining first-hand knowledge through clinical opportunities that have been arranged at Edmonton hospitals. They will see how patients are transferred from primary to tertiary levels of care, gain exposure to Canadian clinical practice and organization, and learn about medical residency programs that might help them further develop medical education.

A secondary but vital component of September’s visit was planning transition to Ethiopian instructors for the midwifery side of the initiative, so that the value of the $5 million being invested by the federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development continues after the direct Canadian role comes to an end.

To that end, Ethiopian project manager Abrham Getachew travelled to Calgary with midwife Tsinat Kifle to meet with partners and colleagues at Mount Royal University, the lead partner in developing and teaching a senior midwife tutor training course at St. Paul’s Hospital in Addis Ababa, an institution that conducts roughly 9,000 births a year.

Getachew said the meeting was an invaluable opportunity to update the Canadian group on the progress the 43 course graduates have already made to “cascade” what they have learned to their colleagues and students in their home institutions.

“The meeting paved the way for MRU instructors’ visit to Addis in November to begin preparing three senior Ethiopian midwives to teach next year.”

The guiding idea of the visit is to give Ethiopians new options to consider as they drive progress forward in Ethiopia’s health system.

“We are not saying ours is the best,” says project director Roger Turnell, a professor in the U of A’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“They can pick and choose what they would like to take back home from our clinical practices, how our referral system works and the ways we educate our medical residents.”

Turnell adds that the transfer of knowledge in the project is not a one-way street.

“We are so focused on technology, we have forgotten how to use our hands and ears and eyes in some cases. With less technology, they have to use those fundamental human tools,” says Turnell. “We can learn clinical things from them as well.”