Women in Ethiopia suffer some of the world’s worst indicators of reproductive health – on average a woman is married by age 17 and will give birth to five children in her lifetime, likely all at home. Only 6 percent of Ethiopian women use a skilled attendant during childbirth and only 10 percent have their babies in a professional clinic or hospital. Given such a lack of care, women in that African state have a one in 14 change of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.
Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, the UCF College of Medicine’s director of global health, is doing her part to improve those statistics. Simms-Cendan, an obstetrician-gynecologist by training, has forged a partnership with the new MyungSung Medical School, a private school in Ethiopia sponsored by the Korean Presbyterian Church. She recently spent two weeks at the medical school teaching students and giving grand rounds at the college’s teaching hospital about women’s reproductive health.
Through the partnership, UCF hopes to provide infrastructure support in areas such as curriculum, hiring and assessment to the Ethiopian college, which just enrolled its first class. In doing so, UCF wants to do its part to improve healthcare in Ethiopia, which has only one doctor for every 150,000 people.
Dr. Simms-Cendan came to Ethiopia with some of UCF’s high-tech educational systems, including interactive clickers that College of Medicine students use to answer questions in class. The clickers allow the professor to gauge the class’ understanding of the material, but can keep individual students anonymous. Dr. Simms-Cendan used the clickers to ask Ethiopian students about their reproductive system knowledge and where they had received sex education. The technology helped facilitate communication in a society where many such subjects are taboo, she said. The students created a thank you card for their American teacher. “You are bonded to our hearts and have made a big difference in my life,” one student wrote. “Thank you, Dr. Judy. You are amazing,” wrote another.
Dr. Simms-Cendan also did a lab where students dissected a placenta and gave grand rounds on topics that included relevant female reproductive conditions in that country, including obstetric fistula, genital mutilation and death by hemorrhaging during childbirth. “I wanted to focus on topics that would help students and faculty better care for women,” she said.
The teaching hospital has about six American surgeon volunteers. The Korean Presbyterian Church and other organizations are working to improve healthcare and economic development after Ethiopia’s communist control from 1974-1991. But intense poverty is still the norm. Ninety percent of Ethiopia’s population works as subsistence farmers. Residents plow their fields with oxen; an ambulance is small litter people carry on their backs to transport an ill or injured patient. The medical school and hospital have a garden, where they grow all of their own fruits and vegetables for daily consumption. A woman bakes flat bread for the patients in a storage container turned kitchen.
Dr. Simms-Cendan hopes to have more UCF College of Medicine faculty travel to Ethiopia to provide education to the new medical school. And she is working to expand third- and fourth-year clerkships for students. She hopes working in Ethiopia will give students a new and unique perspective on global health and the devastating impact of poverty on health.