Jefferson University Hospitals

Jefferson Emergency Department Staff Volunteers At General Clinic In Sierra Leone; Aim To Improve Healthcare Delivery

01/25/12

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On Sunday, January 29, three physicians and two nurses from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Emergency Department (ED) will travel to Sierra Leone to help improve the quality of healthcare and its delivery within the impoverished West African country. The Jefferson physicians will stay for two weeks and the nurses for six weeks. This will be the second trip for Jefferson's team in a little more than a year.

The trip is being coordinated with Wellbody Alliance, a US-based non-governmental organization. With assistance from Dr. Bailor Barrie, a Sierra Leonean physician and co-founder of Wellbody, Jefferson staff conducted a preliminary survey of the local healthcare infrastructure and capacity in October 2010. During this upcoming trip, the Jefferson team will provide clinical care and help train local healthcare workers to perform point-of-care ultrasound.

The Jefferson team is looking to learn from the Sierra Leoneans as well. “For several years, Jefferson's ED has been building collaborations with physicians and institutions worldwide to create a mutual learning experience,” says Bon S. Ku, MD, MPP, emergency medicine physician at Jefferson who, with Dr. Harsh Sule, director of International Emergency Medicine at Jefferson, led the October 2010 trip and is serving as a liaison for the January 2012 trip. “There are clear benefits of such a project and training program to both the Jefferson community and to the people of Sierra Leone. We can learn about global healthcare challenges and the resourcefulness of the Sierra Leoneans; while providing education, training and knowledge-transfer to healthcare workers there.”

The three Jefferson physicians going on the Sierra Leone trip are J. Matthew Fields, M.D., Arthur Au, M.D., and Christopher Hale, M.D. Adrienne Marks, RN, a nurse with the ED at Jefferson, along with fellow Jefferson ED coworker Maren Lundby, RN, will accompany the physicians.

Marks says she volunteered to gain a learning experience as well as help care for a greatly underserved population. “There is such a crucial need for healthcare services in Sierra Leone,” says Marks. “To be able to impart our skills and help sustain a clinic that provides such a valuable service to the people of Koidutown, where there are few healthcare options in the entire region of Kono, it means a lot.”

Lundby is grateful for the opportunity to help as well. “This trip would not have been possible without the tremendous support of our supervisors and colleagues,” says Lundby. “It reflects the enthusiasm that the Jefferson community has to support global health.”

One of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone ranks near the bottom of the United Nations Development Index. The average life expectancy at birth is 39 years for males and 42 for females, according to the World Health Organization. The country is still recovering from the devastating repercussions of a civil war that ended in 2002.

“One of our most alarming observations of the health care system was the absence of an adequate healthcare workforce,” says Dr. Ku. “The physician shortage is severe, with only 1 doctor per 50,000 people. If you were to imagine this statistic applied to Philadelphia, there would only be 29 physicians to serve the city's entire population. We will work side-by-side with Sierra Leonean physicians and nurses to teach them clinical skills that increase efficiency, particularly because of the shortage.”

Jefferson's growing work in Sierra Leone provided the impetus for establishing the first post-residency Global Health Fellowship program for physicians in Philadelphia, which began in July 2011. The program is a joint effort between the Jefferson ED and the Jefferson School of Population Health. In addition to pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, fellows are placed in resource-poor areas such as Sierra Leone, says Dr. Ku, who works with Dr. Sule to direct the Global Health Fellowship program.

Adds Dr. Ku, “Locally, the presence of a Global Health Fellowship increases collaboration, while also providing a strong academic impetus to advance the development of the field of global health. For Sierra Leone, our program will focus on developing local capacity, while providing guidance for improving local systems. No longer will it be about patients waiting six months for the next ‘Western’ doctor to show up in town, but about increasing Sierra Leoneans’ reliance in their own healthcare providers and providing improved to care to all patients.”

This release was picked up by City Suburban newspaper.

Media Only Contact:
Jennifer McGowan Smith
Jefferson University Hospitals
Phone: 215-955-6300