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University to use distance education in health department

 


March 15, 2004

By Linda Green*

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) - Distance education will be an important element in enabling Africa University's new department of health sciences to link health care providers in Zimbabwe with experts at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Africa University's Faculty of Health Sciences seeks to train a leadership cadre of community and public health practitioners who will be able to function adequately in sub-Sahara African countries as managers of community health projects, district health managers, coordinators of district-level prevention and control programs targeting HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Through an international medical network called Cure4Kids, St. Jude helps countries with limited resources improve the survival rate and quality of life of children with infectious or catastrophic diseases. The children's hospital provides the service to ensure that medical knowledge is available to health care practioners across the globe.

This free, online and password-protected network will become part of Africa University's Faculty of Health Sciences when the school's computer technology can support it. Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare Systems, both in Memphis, have formed a partnership to improve the ability of Africa's health care providers to respond to infectious diseases.

Yuri Quintana, education director for the International Outreach Program at St. Jude, assists in developing culturally specific programs that share clinical knowledge and training at St. Jude with health professionals around the world.

He described Cure4Kids as a 24-hour-accessible, Internet training program that provides health care professionals with courses, seminars, lectures, a digital library of reference materials and a discussion area for exchange of advice and information.

More than 100 seminars in seven languages are available, and more than 1,200 registered users from more than 71 countries worldwide use the program to stay abreast of new medical knowledge, as well as to participate in Web conferencing, international meetings and clinical discussions with St. Jude doctors. Health care officials in Brazil, Lebanon, Morocco, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico regularly participate in international meetings with St. Jude.

St. Jude has 15 seminars specific to infectious diseases and is developing a series of lectures on HIV/AIDS in Africa as well as helping Africans create learning centers with computer access for online learning. "We are interested in increasing accessibility to the content available through Cure4Kids," Quintana said.

One of those centers is Africa University. The school's information technologist, Nodumo Dhlamini, visited St. Jude to receive training about the Cure4Kids technology and ideas on how the university could take the content of the Web site and adapt it.

"We view the distance-education component to be a critical part of expanding the transmission of knowledge to other parts of the world," he said.

Quintana called the opportunity to work with Cure4Kids and Africa University an honor. "Cure4kids has blossomed into a global village where it is not just St. Jude helping other institutions, but it is people all over the world sharing knowledge with each other," he said. "It is truly becoming not only an education center but a collaboration center."

Once Africa University's computer structure can support the Cure4Kids network, a doctor from Mutare will be able to visit Africa University or log onto to the university's network or computer server, go online and speak directly to St. Jude doctors for analysis and information.

"One of the things we are trying to do is develop education that is really tailored to different cultures and different levels of literacy," to communicate information to patients and families, Quintana said. "We are trying to use technology in innovative ways to create stories that people will understand."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.  News media can contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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