From 2017 to 2019, the University of Minnesota partnered with Kabul University of Medical Sciences to build capacity for training the future health workforce in Afghanistan. As the project comes to a close, the interdisciplinary team reflects on the experience and their hopes for continuing partnership.
Health sciences faculty from Minnesota and Kabul, Afghanistan have virtually and physically traveled across the world to meet and learn from one another. They met in-person five times over two years. Relationship-building and educational activities took place where local partnerships could also be established in countries accessible for both Kabul University of Medical Sciences (KUMS) and University of Minnesota (UMN) colleagues, including India, Rwanda, and Egypt. Integral partners in these host countries included the University of Rwanda, the National Reference Laboratory of Rwanda, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education.
The Afghan University Partnership focuses on strengthening the academic quality of KUMS faculties of midwifery, medical lab technology, dentistry, and anesthesiology, at the request of the Afghanistan Ministry of Higher Education and the KUMS University leadership. The partnership focused primarily on strengthening the clinical, technical, and educational knowledge and skills of KUMS faculty members through in-person short course trainings and remote mentorship. The partnership utilizes a train-the-trainer model whereby KUMS participating faculty were obligated to disseminate skills and knowledge to their colleagues and students in Kabul.
“It isn’t a typical group of disciplines that come together. Our face-to-face meetings offered the opportunity for interprofessional experiences. There was a richness that came when those respective groups could work together to solve a common health problem,” said Carolyn Porta, RN, PhD, AVP for Clinical Affairs and Principal Investigator for the project.
Mohammad Sharif Oria, KUMS faculty in anesthesiology said, “The interprofessional program with midwifery helped establish pain management strategies for gynecological patients. We participated in joint sessions and came to this understanding that if we work as a team, we would be more efficient.”
Health in Afghanistan has improved since 2009 but political instability and armed conflict pose serious threats to sustaining successes that include reduced maternal mortality, improved diagnosis and treatment of acute illness and chronic disease. Funded by a sub-award mechanism with FHI 360, the partnership was part of the Afghanistan University Support and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) - a five-year, $96 million USAID project ending this year to increase the skills and employability of professionally-qualified Afghan women and men in the public and private sectors through university institutional and faculty partnership and strengthening.
Dentistry faculty in Bangalore, IndiaSince 2017, University colleagues from the School of Nursing, the Medical School, the Center for Allied Health Programs, the School of Dentistry, the School of Public Health, and M Simulation have focused precious in-person meetings on building relationships with KUMS faculty and sharing innovations in clinical practice, instructional design, and research methods. Project management support was provided by the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility (CGHSR).
“I’m fond of saying it’s all about the people and the relationships, and it’s been a pleasure feeling like I’ve made friends in other professions around the world,” said Melissa Avery, PhD, MSN. Avery directs the nurse-midwifery program in the School of Nursing and was the midwifery technical lead for the project.
Mohammad Bashir Nejabi KUMS faculty focal person from dentistry shared, “The most interesting thing I have learned from these exchanges was the way we have been treated by our instructors. Our colleagues from the University of Minnesota have been very kind. They answered our questions with kindness and affection. They always tried hard to make us benefit, and take the most advantages from the program. I would never forget that.”
Faculty from medical lab technology in Kigali, RwandaUniversity of Minnesota and KUMS faculty co-created partnership goals which included developing technical knowledge and skills, creative teaching methods, a mentorship program, and curriculum review and design.
“When I used to teach my students, there was even a sense of ambiguity for myself. This experience gave me greater exposure to lab technology,” said KUMS faculty member from medical lab technology, Khalid Jan Rezayee.
Anesthesiology faculty in Bangalore, India
University of Minnesota colleagues provided curriculum review and recommendations that led, in part, to national adoption of a new curriculum for at least one of the disciplines supported in this project. Beyond the technical delivery of information, education, or resources, the faculty role modeled collegiality and creative ways of teaching that were extremely well received by the KUMS colleagues.
Erin Mann, project manager from CGHSR had the opportunity to travel to Kabul in June 2019 as part of project close out activities where she met with KUMS faculty and toured their campus. “It was such a treat to visit them in Kabul after working together for nearly two years. I feel very fortunate to work with KUMS faculty members who are so dedicated to their students, their colleagues, and their institution.”
Shiba Azim KUMS faculty in anesthesiology said, “I learned how to engage my class. Three big changes happened for me: I developed different teaching methodology, and increased my knowledge in theory and practice. I want to express my special gratitude for making women more involved in the program.”
The large participation of women in the Afghan University partnership was encouraging for many of the KUMS faculty.
Midwifery faculty in Manipal, IndiaBatool Erfani KUMS faculty from midwifery said, “The most impressive thing is to see that the leader of the project is a woman. The members of her team are mostly women, whether at the office of the University of Minnesota or the Kabul office. I feel proud of our achievements and want to serve as a role model for women in Afghanistan.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
While the funded period ended in 2019, the University of Minnesota and KUMS are committed to long-term partnership and engagement, as are their host country partners. They will continue research collaboration, mentorship support, and sharing electronic resources. With future funding, there could be substantial strengthening of the health care workforce in Afghanistan through university support focused on expanding graduate programs, and faculty capacity for independent research.
KUMS faculty member from dentistry Mohammad Haris Taheri believes, “There is no doubt that today it is the young generation who will direct our country’s rise or fall. Every positive development that takes place in relation to the youth is valuable and significant. This program has provided opportunities for us younger generation. We appreciate our partner’s endeavors and hope that it won’t be the last exchange. We expect that this program will be a starting point for the next steps.”
AVP for Clinical Affairs and Professor in Nursing Carolyn Porta is working closely with FHI 360 to develop a competitive application for the next USAID 5-year award to advance Afghanistan workforce development, and notification of the award is anticipated in 2021.