Caroline Jenkins finds out how the new WHO Collaborating Centre at UTS will help the United Nations meet its international development goals
Image: World Health Organization
The UTS World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) for nursing and midwifery is part of an international network of centres working to develop and strengthen the global health workforce - an issue threatening the development of health systems around the world.
Established in April last year, the partnership between UTS and the World Health Organization (opens an external site) is helping to bolster health systems in developing countries and, ultimately, achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
"Unless more work is done to address the shortage of workers, the WHO is not going to be able to meet its Millennium Development Goals," says Professor John Daly, Dean of Nursing, Midwifery and Health and head of the Collaborating Centre.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in 2000, aim to 'free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty'. In doing so, the eight goals are essentially development objectives that encompass universally accepted human values and rights.
The UTS Centre is the only WHO nursing and midwifery Collaborating Centre in Australia, and one of only seven in the Western Pacific Region, which encompasses 37 Asia-Pacific countries. Already, it is one of the world's busiest centres.
Earlier this year, the WHOCC was awarded close to half a million dollars by AusAID (opens an external site) to deliver a training program for nursing and midwifery leaders in the Pacific. Working in partnership with the South Pacific Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officers Alliance, 30 fellows from 10 countries took part in a face-to-face education program for three months from May to July before returning to their home countries to develop and implement projects.
"It is about developing new knowledge, understanding and skills, and making sure people can transfer new knowledge and skills into their workplace back in their home country," says Daly.
"We believe that we're contributing to capacity development in the Pacific and that should assist in movement towards meeting the MDGs. We're also looking at new ways of supporting and developing nursing and midwifery educators throughout the region."
Daly says many global health issues related to human resources are linked to nursing and midwifery. "Certainly we're short of physicians, and we're short of physiotherapists and occupational therapists, but the major issues are around the nursing workforce internationally."
The World Health Organization says it is vital that nursing and midwifery - which form the bulk of clinical health workforces around the world - are recognised as significant contributors in the battle against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, as well as emerging diseases such as the swine flu. Nurses and midwives also contribute significantly to child health across the globe.
Improvements to human resources for nursing and midwifery would mean lower levels of infant (death of a child under the age of one) and maternal (death of a woman during or shortly after giving birth) mortality. In 2005, only 38 per cent of births in Papua New Guinea were attended by skilled healthcare professionals. The maternal mortality ratio was 470 per 100,000 live births, while the infant mortality rate in 2006 was 54 per 1000 live births. This compares with 100 per cent of Australian births being attended by skilled healthcare professionals, with a maternal mortality ratio of four and an infant mortality rate of five.
Stronger health workforces would also mean the sick could be treated in their own country. Often patients need to be flown to a developed nation such as Australia for specialised treatment. In remote locations such as the Pacific islands, care will ideally be provided in a timely manner - in the right place, by the right people.
Ultimately, says Daly, better human resources for health would assist in reaching the health-related MDGs, which include: reducing by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate by 2015; stopping and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015; and stopping and beginning to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases by 2015.
"We're trying to create the next generation of health workers so institutions in developing nations can keep the people who have been educated. Often they lose their staff to developed countries," says Daly.
The WHOCC is also conducting data analysis to gain a better understanding of the limitations of the health workforce across the region. And toolkits are being developed for use in developing communities. "They will be used to improve capacity and develop their workforces in the most prudent, cost-effective way with the objective of providing the best possible services in the context in which they are working," says Daly.
Not only is UTS collaborating with local partners such as the University of NSW Health Knowledge Hub, it is also working with human resources for health expert Professor James Buchan, from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, as well as researchers from other leading international universities.
"We're about to sign a memorandum of understanding with John Hopkins University [in the US] which… has a very strong faculty of nursing. As the Centre grows we'll probably look at [working with] other universities around the world," says Daly.
Although the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre is not currently employing the skills of students, Daly envisages that further growth will enable students to become more involved.
"This is one of my aspirations," he says. "As the research arm of the centre grows, I think there'll be scope for PhD and Masters by Research students to take part… And we [will] look at more student exchange opportunities. I want to do more to internationalise the work of the faculty."
Along with human resources for health, the WHOCC is also focussing on disaster management. In the aftermath of the earthquake in China last year, UTS was represented by lecturer Lisa Conlon, a retired senior officer in the Royal Australian Navy. "She is an expert in disaster nursing," says Daly. "We dispatched her to the zone to train health workers in disaster management." She has also been asked to go to Papua New Guinea in a similar capacity.
"This faculty is making a major contribution both nationally and internationally," says Daly.
This article was first printed in UTS:Alumni magazine TOWER, Winter 2009.