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Medical School team rebuilding health care in Liberia

Multidisciplinary experts lead initiatives in medical training, nursing leadership and library services

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

March 04, 2011
Liberai Group

On a previous visit to Liberia, from left, Office of Global Health Co-director Donna Gallagher, MSN, and Associate Provost of Global Health Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, met with Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson.

At any given time of year, there are scores of students, faculty and researchers off campus—some way, way off campus—in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ghana, Liberia—providing aid, serving fellowships and gaining experience they can apply to their work, and their patients, here at home. As an ongoing, periodic feature on UMassMedNow, we will profile some of these travelers and give you some insight into the impact—both small scale and large—that the people of UMMS are making on our world.

While many are spending the spring break days of March at vacation destinations, a team of UMass Medical School faculty and clinicians are headed off to work in Liberia, where they will advance a number of initiatives aimed at helping the war-torn country rebuild its medical infrastructure. On Saturday, March 5, an eight-person delegation, assembled by Associate Provost of Global Health Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, professor of medicine and pediatrics, travels to Liberia for a week of collaborating with and supporting their Liberian colleagues. 

Liberia has recently emerged from two disastrous civil wars that destroyed much of its medical infrastructure and training systems. With a $2.4 million grant from the non-profit Higher Education for Development (HED),which funds innovative partnerships between U.S. colleges or universities with institutions of higher learning in developing nations; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and in cooperation with Health Education and Relief Through Teaching (HEARTT), a not-for-profit corporation providing overall health care and health training to underdeveloped communities and countries, UMMS faculty are collaborating with other academic health sciences centers from around the United States on several initiatives to address Liberia’s medical needs. 

Leading the group with Dr. Luzuriaga is School of Medicine Dean and Professor of Pediatrics Terence R. Flotte, MD, who, in addition to participating in pediatrics training projects, will meet key partners an d observe the Liberian health care landscape firsthand, and then carry the message of Liberia’s enormous need to the larger UMMS community. 

 Liberia 2

Liberian nurse leaders proudly display their certificates of completion for the JFK Nursing Leadership and BSN Education Technical Assistance training program led by UMMS Co-director of Global Health Donna Gallagher, MSN, rear, third from right, in late 2010.


Office of Global Health Co-director Donna Gallagher, MSN, instructor in family medicine & community health, has been forging partnerships in Liberia for many years as director of the New England AIDS Education and Training Center. She will be conducting her third nursing leadership program sponsored by the HED grant. This time, three Liberian-American nurses and one physician assistant from Rhode Island will join her. They will be in Liberia for a month to provide clinical mentorship for the Liberian nurses who have participated in the leadership training. 

Director of Library Services Elaine Martin, DA, and former Associate Director of Library Information Services James Comes, EdD, will kick off an initiative to rebuild the country’s decimated medical library and supply of medical textbooks. The project involves cataloguing a donation of 8,000 medical texts from the Sabre Foundation. The group has also applied for a donation of the entire medical library from the soon-to-be-closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 

Pediatrician and Director of Global Health Education in the Department of Pediatrics Patricia McQuilkin, MD, will focus on pediatric curriculum development at the University of Liberia’s Dogliotti School of Medicine, and pediatric training at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center—essential in a country where half the population is under age 15 and there are only two native pediatricians. Joining Dr. McQuilkin from Children’s Hospital Boston and Brigham and Women’s Hospital is Michelle Niescierenko, MD, a fellow in pediatric emergency medicine and international pediatric medicine. And, Mariah McNamara, MD, director of the new UMMS International Emergency Medicine Fellowship, will explore other opportunities for collaboration. 

“These projects grew out of the initial involvement of a small group of people whose work focused on improving HIV care in Liberia. As we developed familiarity with the unique needs of the Liberian health care system, we began to understand that there was a need for more broad-based participation,” said Luzuriaga. “This has resulted in the assembly of a multidisciplinary group of individuals who collectively can capitalize on the strengths of our academic health sciences center to improve the health care system and health status for all Liberians.”