$4M contract supports advancing health sciences higher ed in Afghanistan

Jan. 22, 2021

The University of Minnesota was awarded a $4.48 million contract to support health sciences higher education advancements in Afghanistan.

The Advancing Higher Education for Afghanistan’s Development (AHEAD) program, funded by USAID and led by FHI 360 and four university consortia members, supports the government of Afghanistan, its Ministry of Higher Education and numerous Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to increase access to and quality of their higher education programs and to ensure they are responsive to workforce needs.

The lead university partners include Virginia Tech (agricultural sciences), the American University of Afghanistan (business), University of Massachusetts (education) and the University of Minnesota (health sciences).

“The University of Minnesota makes discoveries that benefit Minnesota and the world. This project embodies the values we hold to share what we learn, to discover together, and to generate solutions and a health care workforce that meets societal needs,” said Associate Vice President for Clinical Affairs and School of Nursing Professor Carolyn Porta, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, who is the University of Minnesota sub-award principal investigator.

Building on previous results in Afghanistan
This five-year program builds upon the results of USAID’s previous higher education investments in Afghanistan, including work with health sciences faculty led by Porta and her team.

Porta and the team built relationships with faculty at the Kabul University of Medical Sciences (KUMS) in the previous project. The new project expands to include six HEIs that graduate health sciences professionals in every sector across Afghanistan: Herat University, Kabul Medical Science University, Kabul University, Kandahar University, Kateb University and Nangarhar University.

Within these universities, there are over 60 departments preparing the next generation Afghanistan workforce in most health sciences professions.

University of Minnesota alum and project adviser Masoud Sahar knows firsthand the role the University of Minnesota can play in helping the Afghan people heal. His father, Hafiz Sahar, PhD, a professor at Kabul University, developed a kidney condition in the 1970s that required a transplant. “He was under the care of a very talented doctor in Afghanistan, but like a lot of cases in Afghanistan the technology wasn’t there to support his care,” said Sahar. His father’s research indicated the best transplant surgeon at the time was John Najarian, MD, who was a pioneer transplant surgeon at the University of Minnesota.

“The expertise at the University of Minnesota is what brought my family here,” said Sahar. “It is an expertise that is really wide and very deep. I think the partners in Afghanistan are going to be surprised to know what an amazing institution they are collaborating with and the University of Minnesota is going to be working with some incredibly brilliant minds there. I am so proud the University of Minnesota is working in this collaboration to share and learn from one another.”

AHEAD’s aims
AHEAD’s Higher Education Networks aim to provide a mechanism for strengthening Afghan HEI capacity, and promoting channels of communication and collaboration across the ecosystem of public and private HEIs in five Afghan provinces. The AHEAD program has three objectives:

Objective 1: Increased access to HE, especially for vulnerable groups like women
Objective 2: Improved quality and relevance of HE that supports market needs
Objective 3: Enhanced management capacity and sustainability of the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and Afghan public and private HEIs

This project contributes to internationalizing the University of Minnesota through rich interactions with participating faculty and staff involved in AHEAD. With over 70% of Minnesota’s health professionals trained at the University of Minnesota, projects like this one expose students and faculty to other health systems and challenges, which in turn can spark innovations. The project requires creatively negotiating the security and infrastructure challenges within Afghanistan and the region, while implementing solutions focused on strengthening health care with available resources.

The core University of Minnesota leadership team has extensive global partnership experience, including multisectoral and higher education network development, is multidisciplinary, and is committed to implementing creative flexible strategies to achieve partnership deliverables. In addition to Porta, the leadership team includes Stephen Wiesner, PhD, MT (ASCP), FACSc, Medical Laboratory Science; Katey Pelican, PhD, DVM, College of Veterinary Medicine; Kaylee Myhre Errecaborde, PhD, DVM, College of Veterinary Medicine and technical consultant for the World Health Organization; Tricia Todd, MPH, Pre-Health Student Resource Center, Provost Office, Beth Virnig, PhD, MPH, School of Public Health and Heidi Eschenbacher, PhD, School of Nursing. The project team and supporting faculty and graduate assistants will expand to include expertise in disciplines and topics of high interest for support, as indicated by the Afghan partners.

For more information about this project, or to express interest in involvement, email umnahead@umn.edu.

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