The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago has a commitment to women’s health not just in Chicago, but globally as well. Please read on about our collaboration with Mekelle University in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia.
The Mela Project
Mission: To create a center of excellence in medical education, clinical training and research at Mekelle University in Ethiopia that can serve as a national and regional training center for Sub-Saharan Africa.
When Dr. Gelila Goba joined the UIC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in September 2015, the origin of partnership between Mekelle University’s College of Health Sciences (MU-CHS) and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Medicine began. Late September 2015, Dr. Mary Stephenson (Department Head), Dr. Humberto Scoccia, Dr. William Kobak, Dr. Dimitrios Mastrogiannis, and Dr. Tamika Alexander, led by Dr. Gelila Goba spent a week in Tigray, Ethiopia as part of the Mela Project. UIC faculty members met with the Dean and President of Mekelle University to assess the needs of the University and to determine how the UIC Department of OB/Gyn could make a difference in improving care for women.
Ethiopia has one of the lowest health workforce densities in the world, with only 10% of births assisted by a skilled provider – 4% by a doctor and 7% by a nurse or midwife. In comparison, 57% of births were assisted by a relative, 28% by a traditional birth attendant, and 4% unattended. The high proportion of at-home births coupled with the low number of physicians have contributed to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. In conjunction with the government of Ethiopia’s rapid scale-up of residency training to increase the number of OB/Gyns in the last 5 years, the goal of the Mela Project is to assist in this effort through resident training at Mekelle University.
The Mela Project was conceived to support the Ministry of Health’s efforts in starting an OB/Gyn residency program at Mekelle University that will support the education and training of OB/Gyn residents. This, in turn, will increase the number of OB/Gyns in Ethiopia and reduce maternal mortality.
To educate and provide quality OB/Gyn training for Mekelle University faculty and staff.
To increase the standard of care for women receiving treatment at Mekelle University.
To double OB/Gyn faculty and staff enrollment in 2016-2017, and become the largest OBGYN training center in the region.
To support research and achievements in the College of Health Sciences to improve services and foster innovation.
To create a sustainable local capacity that will manage and lead all future health initiatives.
Since inception, UIC faculty have conducted boot camps for Mekelle interns to enhance their clinical skills, led teaching rounds and didactics with the residents, provided patient care and assisted emergency deliveries at Ayder Referral Hospital.
May 2016: Gynecologic Oncology Elective Rotation led by Dr. Rajul Kothari
September 2016: Maternal Fetal Medicine Didactics Training led by Dr. Dimitrios Mastrogiannis and Dr. Abida Hasan (MFM Fellow)
March 2017: Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Lecture Series led by Dr. Humberto Scoccia, Dr. Mary Stephenson, Gail Prins, PhD and Dr. Robert Vogelzang
Of note, the REI Lecture Series in March 2017 conducted at Mekelle University was a national Continuing Medical Education (CME) on Infertility and Andrology in collaboration with the Ethiopian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ESOG). UIC’s Department of OBGYN added expertise outside the home department in this training to include Gail Prins, PhD, Michael Reese Professor in the Department of Urology, Physiology & Biophysics and Pathology. Dr. Prins established the first andrology lab and trained 3 lab technicians at Ayder Referral Hospital. This was also the first externally collaborative training between the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University with the inclusion of Dr. Robert Vogelzang, the Albert Nemcek Education Professor of Radiology at Northwestern University. Dr. Vogelzang introduced intervention radiology’s (IR) role in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He also performed the first-ever uterine embolization procedure at Ayder Referral Hospital, a highly effective procedure to control severe obstetric hemorrhages, which saves lives.
UIC faculty have also provided research based training, critical feedback and encouragement to Mekelle residents who have presented their research projects.
October 2016: Research Methodology Workshop led by Stacie Geller, PhD
In the two short years that the University of Illinois at Chicago have added expert training to Mekelle University, Dr. Amanuel Haile, Dean of the College of Health Sciences stated in an interview on July 28, 2017 that he warms the generosity of training and is pleased to turn the focus from increasing the number of experts to improving the quality of clinical service through the collection of empirical data and continuing to work together.
July 25-26, 2017: First Maternal Mortality and Morbidity (M&M) and Near-Miss Conference led by Dr. Amanuel Haile and Stacie Geller, PhD
The Mela Project graduated the first cohort of five Obstetrician Gynecologists in December 2016, all of whom joined as faculty at Mekelle University to train future OB/Gyns. This increased Mekelle University’s full-time faculty OB/Gyns from two to seven. All graduates passed both the written and oral board exams by external examiners from ESOG and Addis Ababa University. In efforts to expand upon the strengths of these recent graduates as well as other faculty at MU-CHS, mentorship training has become a focus to build great leadership within the college and Ayder Referral Hospital.
July 28, 2017: Mentorship Seminar led by Stacie Geller PhD
With all the great work being conducted in Ethiopia, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has developed a residency addendum to the MOU with the opportunity for UIC OB/Gyn residents with interest in global health to visit MU-CHS and Ayder Referral Hospital. Each resident designs an elective to suit their specific interests with the Mekelle OB/Gyn Department Head, Dr. Yibrah Berhe Zelelow. Within the last year and a half, three OBGYN residents from the University of Illinois at Chicago have received the opportunity to go abroad and work in the clinics, labor ward and on research projects in a low-resource setting.
Lastly, this opportunity has established the first GME-accredited Global Women’s Health Fellowship in UIC’s OB/Gyn department by combining one year of global women’s health, based in Mekelle, northern Ethiopia, with one year of a clinical faculty appointment. In this fellowship, we provide mentorship, opportunities and resources for the fellow to develop educational initiatives, improve clinical services, and lead clinical research in global women’s reproductive and gynecologic health. The program will be a platform for building strong relationships in Mekelle, and possibly other areas of Ethiopia. Given the growing need for physician leadership in the international women’s health community, this fellowship program will provide experience, leadership, and opportunities in global women’s health research in Ethiopia.
Resident Opportunities for Involvement
Interested residents have multiple opportunities for involvement in global health work by taking part in our work in Ethiopia. Residents can also attend the Center for Global Health network meetings, journal clubs and can become involved in projects with our institutional collaborators.