Today’s blog comes from Kara Olivier, a nurse practitioner at MGH Cancer Center and leader within the MGH Global Nursing Program. Describing the magnitude of the cancer burden in Africa, Kara highlights the work being done through MGH’s Global Nursing Fellowship to improve oncology care and education for patients and providers in the region. Kara holds a master’s degree in nursing, teaches graduate-level courses and specializes in genitourinary malignancies and clinical trials.
Over half a million deaths per year; nearly three quarters of a million cases annually; lack of resources for quality treatment. These are just a few of the sobering statistics* that describe cancer in Africa, and while those of us working in global healthcare may often hear and read about these figures, we often fail to truly recognize what they look like on a human level.
Even though nurses deliver between 80-90% of health services around the world, there is still a massive shortage of nurses and nursing facilities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Compared to the U.S., where there are about 1,000 nurses per 100,000 patients, Sub- Saharan Africa averages fewer than 100 nurses per 100,000 people, and they serve primarily urban and middle-income areas. Patients living in poor, rural areas face far greater difficulties in accessing proper care.
Nurses are essential to improving health outcomes, especially through their work in disease prevention. Furthermore, specialized nursing is central to high quality, patient centered care. Unfortunately, areas like sub-Saharan Africa lack local tools and resources to standardize and advance nursing care.
For over ten years, MGH Global Health has partnered with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in southwestern Uganda to enhance patient care and support local clinicians in managing a diverse range of medical conditions. The partnership has since expanded to include nursing mentorship and education through the innovative MGH Global Nursing Fellowship. The program seeks to improve patient outcomes, standardize education for nurses within their specialties and empower nurses to advocate for patients and themselves.
Last June, with the support of MGH Oncology, Bethany Groleau, RN was the inaugural nursing fellow chosen to focus on oncology nursing care at MUST. Bethany is an oncology nurse on Lunder 9 Oncology Unit, where she not only provides direct patient care but also mentors new nurses joining oncology. She spent nearly two months teaching oncology fundamentals in the classroom and caring for patients.
Through education about safe chemotherapy administration, recognizing early signs of cancer progression and management of treatment side effects, Bethany empowered, and collaborated with local nurses to provide cancer care to patients and families each day. In the months following Bethany’s time at MUST, staff nurses have continually demonstrated their commitment to cancer patients by maintaining implemented protocols despite limited resources. Deepening their understanding of the cancer for adults and pediatric patients remains their priority.
In March 2017, MGH and MUST will expand their collaboration in oncology care even further with the opening of a 15-bed pediatric oncology unit at MUST. Over the past year, MUST, MGH Global Health and Pediatric Oncology have focused on improving outcomes for childhood cancers. Dr. Howard Weinstein, Chief of MGH Pediatric Oncology, will guide the pediatric medical oncology effort in Uganda, while MGH Global Health will continue to support specialized pediatric oncology nursing education through the Global Nursing Fellowship. Later this month, Dr. Weinstein and his team will return to Mbarara to meet with colleagues at MUST and continue work on the development and expansion of pediatric oncology services in the region.
Building off the success of the first oncology fellowship, as well as the growing team of dedicated nurses at MUST who are eager to strengthen their skills in treating childhood cancers, MGH Global Health is recruiting for a pediatric oncology nurse for a second, two-month fellowship. Bethany’s time in Uganda demonstrates the value and importance of collaboration between hospitals from different parts of the globe, as well as the impact of shared knowledge and a commitment to delivering the most effective patient care.
To learn more about the Global Nursing Fellowship and become involved, contact Mary Sebert, RN, 617-643-9197.