Minnesota Nursing magazine

Supporting Afghan health educators

U of M leads partnership to advance education
Barb Schlaefer

University of Minnesota faculty in nursing, anesthesia, dentistry and medical lab technology are partnering with faculty at Kabul University of Medical Sciences in Afghanistan to share the latest practices and resources used in teaching health professionals.

The effort is funded by $1.2 million from the US Agency for International Development. Decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan have made seeking professional development and current teaching resources difficult for Afghan faculty. Because security and political challenges make travel difficult between Minnesota and Afghanistan, educational conferences are being held in India and Rwanda.

“Faculty in Kabul who teach health professionals are faced with a series of shortages. They lack proper teaching tools, medical lab equipment and current internationally-standardized course content and curricula,” said Rohina Amiri, MD, MPH, senior manager at the USAID University Support & Workforce Development program. “Students do not have access to very basic lab equipment or simulation facilities. The internet is not reliable. It is hard for faculty to teach and discuss skills to students by lecture only.”

The second of five workshops was held in January in India, with faculty from nurse-midwifery, dentistry and anesthesiology. Another workshop was held in Kigali, Rwanda with faculty in the medical lab technology field.

Common ground

“We found we have much in common,” said Professor Melissa Avery, PhD, APRN, CNM, FACNM, FAAN, who leads the School of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice nurse-midwifery specialty at the University of Minnesota. “While we are working hard to reduce reliance on medical and pharmacologic interventions during normal births that have become so prevalent in the US, our Afghan counterparts typically don’t consider these medical options. Our Afghan partners were quite interested in the scientific evidence supporting natural, physiological birth and learning new ways of supporting women through that process.” Avery also learned from her colleagues in Afghanistan about differences in scope of practice for health professionals. “The Afghan midwife’s use of the stethoscope, for example, is quite limited. If midwives in Afghanistan have an opportunity to expand their role, we may be able to serve as a resource to them in making policy changes.”

Associate Professor Carolyn Porta, PhD, MPH, RN, SANE-A, FAAN, who serves as director for Global Health at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, is the principal investigator for the project. “This opportunity gives our Afghan colleagues the chance to broaden their international experience and gain exposure to emerging evidence and approaches to practice,” said Porta. “Likewise, for many of our own faculty, this provides them with exposure to global work—it’s a win-win for everyone involved, even if the circumstances that necessitate it are unfortunate.”

The work is funded by a sub-award grant from FHI360, a large global development organization funded by the USAID to implement a five-year, $96 million initiative strengthening higher education in Afghanistan. Faculty from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, Medical School, the Center for Allied Health Programs and the Academic Health Center Simulation Center, as well as faculty from the School of Dentistry at Manipal University, India, and the University of Rwanda, are contributing their time and expertise to the project.


Midwifery faculty from the University of Minnesota, Kabul University and Manipal University participate in a workshop in India.
Midwifery faculty from the University of Minnesota, Kabul University and Manipal University participate in a workshop in India.