On April 12-13, 2014, I attended what CNN refers to as “a meeting of minds,” namely the annual Global Health Innovation Conference (GHIC) at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. This two-day event is brought together by Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that primarily focuses on providing eye care through eye surgeries internationally, especially to disadvantaged places. In its 13 years of existence, Unite for Sight facilitated more than 60,000 vision-restoring eye surgeries through its recruitment of surgeons and axillary health providers.

While Unite for Sight aims to restore eyesight year-round, its annual GHIC fuels individuals and groups to develop and further their vision about and commitment to global health. Speakers at the event come with various backgrounds of expertise and experiences that are focused on contributing to the improvement of health care provision worldwide, may it be through social entrepreneurship, business, pharmacology, philanthropy, education, technology, medicine, and, of course, nursing.

In my time at the conference, I had the privilege of attending sessions specifically about unregulated toxins and their effects on health; the value in protecting soil; the science of marketing and our consumption of fats, oils, and sugar; global health ethics and effectiveness; improving health access; and various topics led by student leaders.

Although I learned many new things from all of the impressive speakers, the presentation entitled “Accompaniment in Healthcare Change: Why One Time Educational Training Interventions in Primary Care are Just Not Enough in Rural East Africa” delivered by Monica Slinkard was the most compelling to me. In December of 2013 in Burundi, Africa, Monica Slinkard and other nurses of LifeNet International surveyed various church-based local clinics about health care practices. The results of these surveys were shocking. Some of their data state that during a work day, 29% of nurses washed their hands sometimes while the rest of the nurses did not, and that the two best methods for resuscitating newborns were stimulation by throwing alcohol on the newborn’s skin or swinging the baby in the air.

Monica Slinkard and other nurses of LifeNet International provide continuing education classes in nursing and healthcare to the nurses and health promoters of church-based local clinics in Burundi. Unlike common practices and standards in the United States, some countries around the world do not require health care providers to continue developing their knowledge and skill set after the initial licensing. Due to this, the nursing knowledge and interventions do not follow evidenced-based research and practices, leading to outdated nursing care, unsafe practices, and climbing mortality rates.

The monthly continuing education classes that Slinkard and other LifeNet nurses teach include various topics based on the need of the community and the knowledge base of the nurses. Some classes include hand-washing practices, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), importance of explaining treatments and medications to patients, temperature control for newborns, and breastfeeding practices. In less than six months, the data changed dramatically, evident in hand-washing practices soaring to 70% in always washing hands and saving seven newborn babies since learning how to perform infant CPR. The nurses’ work in Burundi truly created change.

Although the figures above are remarkable, LifeNet nurses do not only boast about their results but also about the relationship that they have built with the nurses and healthcare providers in Burundi. One of the pastors in the clinic spoke with Slinkard and told her that LifeNet international was different because they continually “walk with” the people towards improving their delivery of care. LifeNet nurses teach teachers and practitioners and build relationships with the locals as opposed to merely bringing their skillset and working without partnering with the locals. With these methods, they disseminate evidenced-based information, empower health care providers and communities, and ensure safe and effective patient care. Slinkard’s advice to the audience at the end of her talk was priceless: “Do not forget about the nurses. We provide more than half of direct patient care.”

Seeing the various groups and individuals committed to global health initiatives and causes encouraged me to continue to look into a degree in public health and international work in the future. Having the resources in the United States and in other developed countries is not merely a blessing in all ways, but this also creates in me a responsibility to strive for others to attain basic health care provisions as well. Hearing Slinkard’s presentation and seeing how nurses like her make a concrete difference in the world outside of the United States is empowering; and I am excited to one day be a part of these strides and contribute to the many innovations in this field.

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