News

UofS making links in Mozambique

By Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix May 28, 2010

Keep your eyes on TheStarPhoenix.com in the coming days, as the group of Saskatchewan doctors in Mozambique will be writing a blog from the southern African nation.

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University of Saskatchewan medical student Beverly Wudel believes health care is about more than just hospitals and surgeries, and that's why she's heading to southern Africa next week.

Wudel and a group of Saskatoon medical students and physicians are taking part in a unique U of S program that encourages doctors here to think about social issues as part of health care.

It's connected to a wider, multimillion-dollar Saskatchewan-Mozambique partnership. In the past 10 years, dozens of Saskatchewan health workers have travelled there to study Africa's health system. Hundreds of Mozambican nurses, dental techs and public health workers have also been trained at the project's main centre in the city of Massinga, transforming the southern African country's health-care system.

"You don't become a physician for yourself -- you do it to help the community," said Wudel, 26.

"The work being done at the centre in Massinga is essential. It demonstrates how a community can change its own health."

Wudel has been to Massinga before. In 2005, she studied at the centre as a nutrition student. She's since switched to medicine and is returning as part of the U of S-sponsored program Making the Links, a name borrowed from the CFCR radio program hosted by Massinga centre co-founder Don Kossick.

Wudel and her fellow U of S medical students first studied in the northern Saskatchewan communities of Dillon, the Buffalo River Dene Nation and Ile-a-la-Crosse. They then worked at a clinic in Saskatoon's inner city. Now it's off to Mozambique to see another culture. The intent is to learn the differences, but also the many similarities in the communities, said Links co-ordinator Dr. Ryan Meili.

It's part of a growing push in the U of S medical school to understand the "determinants of health." Gender, income, geography and a host of other factors are taken into account when evaluating health.

"In the classroom, things may not sink in as well. This will give them real-life experience," said Meili, who left for Massinga earlier this month with his wife, Dr. Mahli Brindamour.

"They'll see that the amount of money you have, the kind of job you have, all affects your health."

Meili, who has led several groups of students on trips, said Mozambique can be an emotional experience for many.

"It's intense. They will see people dying of things they would not die from here. They'll have to deal with that," he said.

"You can treat a malnourished child, but then you have to discharge him back to the same situation."

The U of S is also a central player in the Training for Health Renewal Project, a multimillion-dollar program founded more than a decade ago by Saskatoon residents Murray and Gerri Dickson, Kossick and his partner Denise Kouri and several Mozambicans.

Mozambicans come to Saskatoon to teach and study public health. There has also been a steady stream of "trainers" from Saskatchewan who have spent time at the centre. They run immunization and maternal health clinics in villages, but the main focus is on training local health workers. There are currently 80 Mozambicans enrolled at the Training for Health centre in Massinga. After the 18-month course, these workers will fan out into the rural areas, educating residents about malaria prevention, for example. They will also diagnose and treat minor ailments and injuries.

It began as a small pilot project, but slowly and steadily has been adopted by the Mozambican government as a model for the entire country.

"I think it's been a very successful program," Kossick said.

"It's all come together very well."

Wudel said she's unclear what she'll do after medical school. But with a strong nutrition background, international experience and an awareness of social issues, she admits public health would be a natural fit. Whatever her chosen specialty, she intends to look beyond the traditional, narrow definitions of health care.

"I can't imagine doing it any other way," she said.

jwarick@sp.canwest.com

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