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Nursing Researchers Frame Health Care Agenda in Africa

By Dean Bobbie Berkowitz, PhD, RN, FAAN


As a worldwide leader in nursing education, Columbia Nursing’s commitment to improving global health takes many forms. These activities, most of which come under the aegis of our Office of Global Initiatives, include partnerships that advance the practice of nursing throughout the world. The Office currently has alliances with a number of nursing schools and clinics internationally to conduct collaborative activities.


As part of these efforts, working together with Columbia Global Centers | Africa and African nurse collaborators, this month the Office convened a landmark conference of nursing leaders from 10 sub-Saharan African nations at the CGC Kenyan headquarters in Nairobi. The group’s mission is to identify relevant findings in clinical nursing and midwifery research for application in the region and develop plans for addressing gaps.


Because of the profound shortage of nurse and midwifery researchers in many African countries (which have some of the world’s highest rates for a large number of serious medical conditions and diseases), there is a major unmet need for evidence-based research that will result in improved outcomes in patients and reduce unnecessary or ineffective treatments and procedures.


The project, funded by the Columbia University President’s Global Innovation Fund under the direction of Jennifer Dohrn and Elaine Larson.  As part of the project, Carolyn Sun, a PhD candidate at Columbia Nursing, reviewed published nursing literature and surveyed nurse and midwifery experts in the field in Africa. Topics identified as needing more research-informed interventions include prevention and amelioration of HIV/AIDS and TB (including mother to child transmission), high adolescent fertility rates, inadequate mental health services, and numerous children’s health problems including poor nutrition, low overall rates of vaccination, and high rates of pneumonia, diarrhea, sepsis, and malaria.


Corollary goals of the conference included 1) adapting existing IT tools to promote the exchange of best practices among nurses and midwives on the continent for addressing the vital needs outlined above; 2) developing a database of nurse and midwife leaders conducting regional research and program evaluation; and 3) creating a plan to increase mentoring among nurse clinicians and researchers in the participating African countries. Columbia Nursing research scientist Kenrick Cato is providing informatics expertise to this aspect of the project.


This initiative can serve as a model for using nursing research to guide health care policy and distribute resources to improve clinical outcomes in poorer regions of the world. The participants already have plans to apply the model next year at a similar meeting in Amman, Jordan in partnership with the Columbia Global Center | Middle East.


The conference in Kenya is premised on the centrality of the three core pillars of nursing in addressing gaps in health care in the world’s poorer countries. Research, clinical care, and education all have important and complementary roles to play in identifying what works and translating investigative findings into actions that reduce suffering and save lives. With this initiative, Columbia Nursing is taking a decisive step in solidifying our commitment to nursing as a global calling, where national borders are meaningless when acting on the underlying humanitarian impulse that animates clinical research and its application in care settings throughout the world.