African health care leaders visit campus to prepare students for study abroad

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Students in the Global Health Minor are embarking on their summer fieldwork experience to one of three African nations. Five students are studying in South Africa, nine traveled to Tanzania, and eight will go to Senegal in June as part of the six-credit six-week fieldwork requirement of the minor.

Last month, health care faculty from nursing, medicine and health promotion from the African universities and hospitals that coordinate or serve as Penn State fieldwork sites visited the University Park campus to prepare students for their assignments.

They included Sebalda Leshabari, senior lecturer and former dean of the school of nursing at Muhambili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania; Joyce Mashamba, senior lecturer in health promotion at the University of Limpopo in South Africa; and Fatou Diop, director of Mbour Hospital in Mbour, Senegal, affiliated with the University of Theis, in Senegal.

During their time at Penn State, the faculty members conducted presentations on African health care systems, met with Penn State faculty and administrators interested in global health issues in Africa, and led classroom discussions and small group conversations with global health minor students.

Some of the topics discussed included differences in health care systems across the three countries, racial and ethnic disparities in access to health care, medical needs across communities, and differences in rural and urban settings. Students were also prepared to face language barriers, and encouraged to participate fully in the diverse cultural activities each site offers.

“This minor really aims to develop students' understanding and knowledge of health issues across world populations,” said Dana Naughton, director of the Global Health Minor program. “Students selected into the program take required courses in epidemiology, global health issues, and approved supplemental courses that further expose them to disease prevalence, and local and global resources to improve health care and health status.”

Diop’s presentation focused on the friendliness of the people of Mbour and encouraged students to become immersed in the culture. “The people in Mbour are hospitable so it should not be difficult for students to integrate,” she said. “It can be a rich experience for students.”

She also spoke of the assistance students will provide to Senegalese health professionals as they conduct much needed diabetes screening in remote villages. Mbour Hospital, which has 136 beds, acts as the main general hospital for Mbour, and contains a variety of departments, including pediatrics, medical disease, surgery, psychiatry, maternity, and an emergency room. About 200 people work there, she said.

Leshabari described the culture of Tanzania, and what students can expect in terms of clothing and language.

“Dressing is modest and conservative,” she said. “Most people don’t speak English. They speak Swahili. English is spoken in academics, but not among medical patients.”

Students in Tanzania visit families in their homes in addition to working in hospitals. They shadow Tanzanian nursing students in maternity clinics and clinics for children exposed to HIV. Over the next few weeks they will learn about efforts to stop malnutrition, and complete rotations on the pediatric burn and oncology wards at Muhambili Hospital.

In addition, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, the students will learn of the work of U.S. programs such as USAID and  the Peace Corps, and will meet with professionals from the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offices (CDC).

While at the CDC, students will attend a presentation on the work and history of the CDC in Tanzania with material covering Tanzania’s history; CDC programs; relations with the government of Tanzania; and HIV, testing, support and treatment. The visit will include a tour of CDC offices, and discussions with field epidemiologists, as well as a visit to the laboratory training program where they will meet with researchers.

During Mashamba’s visit to campus, she focused on preparing students for the apartheid history, which is reflected in the culture of South Africa.

“There is not yet equality everywhere,” she said.

Mashamba said there are three or four hospitals in every province of South Africa.

“Students will spend time in both public and private hospitals and clinics, and see the differences in resources,” she said. “They will also have a chance to work with nutrition and public health students.”

Kellie Cronley, a junior biobehavioral health major who will leave for Senegal next month, hopes to learn more about the infectious and non-communicable diseases that are prevalent in the areas she will be visiting.

“I am trying to further my knowledge by observing a few different disciplines in the hospital in Senegal, and comparing what I learn to what I know about diseases in the United States,” she said.

After college, Cronley hopes to become a physician assistant. She said her fieldwork will likely help prepare her for that experience, as well as open her eyes to a new culture.

“I chose to study in Senegal because it seemed to be able to offer me the most clinical hours that could provide me with better insight into patient care in this country,” she said. “Additionally, this fieldwork assignment has a strong cultural experience and really seems to allow one to be immersed in the local customs, which I find to be extremely important.”

Awele Ajufo, a senior majoring in health policy and administration with minors in business and global health, is studying in South Africa. She is most looking forward to learning about the structural aspects of health care and how to improve health systems around the world.

“I believe this trip will expand my range of knowledge in health care as well as strengthen the skills that help me become more culturally aware,” she said.

Before leaving for South Africa, Ajufo noted one challenge she foresees is getting acquainted with the culture and different traditions.

“I anticipate a certain amount of culture shock,” she said. “However, I will work to remind myself that the uncomfortable moments of the experience are some of the most important because they will provide me with self-growth.”

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Last Updated May 23, 2017