Maternal/Child Health Initiative

SANIKA S. CHIRWA & KAREN BERSON (re-posted from The Tennessee Tribune, May 14 – 20, 2015)

Sanika S. Chirwa, PH.D professor of neuroscience and pharmacology in the School of Medicine, and Karen Berson, associate vice president for corporate & foundation relations, had the privilege of carrying out the mission of Meharry as they traveled to Zimbabwe, Africa to attend the Maternal/Child Health Initiative Plenary Meeting last February 2015. The trip was sponsored by United Methodist Women (UMW) and The Black College Fund.

As part of their 11-day expedition, Chirwa and Berson joined with other groups who had come for the session. They met with vice chancellor, Dr. Munashe Furusa of Africa University, a United Methodist-Related Institution, and its School of Allied Health’s dean, faculty and students. During their meeting and through other plenary sessions, they learned about the research, clinical work, patient education, and outreach in maternal/child health that is being done by our respective organizations.

Opportunities for shared learning, faculty exchange, joint research and funding proposals and coordination of resources and relationships to improve maternal/child survival and long-term health were discussed. A preliminary strategic plan was formulated with a four-year project goal. Six teams were established to provide leadership for implementing the plan.

The relationship between the two organizations finds common ground in the mission of Meharry to “improve the health and health care of minority and underserved communities”. Women and children are generally the most vulnerable populations in and country-in the United States, Africa and throughout the world. Effectively uplifting and health status of women around the world improves the overall health of a society. Specifically, the trip laid the groundwork for enhancing the education and training programs in the health sciences at Meharry and Africa University, with emphasis on providing opportunities for people of color and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds: cross-cultural sharing of insights and best practices for maternal/child health and community outreach to enhance the delivery of high quality, effective health services in the US and Zimbabwe and conduction collaborative research that fosters the elimination of health disparities. (Dr. Chirwa believes that cross-cultural research that improves the birth outcomes in Africa will also shed light onto solutions to the birth outcomes health disparities that exist for African Americans in the US.)

The trip was successful in many ways. Joint funding applications by faculty at both institutions are being prepared for submission and shared learning between Africa University and Meharry faculty via email and Skype is ongoing. Telehealth resources, to improve the communication and case management for women during pregnancy in Zimbabwe, have been identified and opportunities toward its execution are under consideration with the guidance of United Methodist Communications. The leadership and support of UMW and The Black College Fund has led to new opportunities for learning research, community health and funding at Meharry and Africa University.

Both Chirwa and Berson plan on attending the next plenary meeting which will be at Africa University in February 2016.

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About N. Neelley Hicks

A pioneer in the use of ICTs for global communications, Neelley inspires others through building and teaching solutions that are affordable, appropriate and available within remote settings - particularly in Africa and the Philippines.
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