In March 2016, Dr. Humberto Scoccia, UIC Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI), Dr. Gelila Goba, Principal Investigator of the MELA Project, and two PGY 3 residents Dr. Rachel Harrison and Dr. Kristina Pontarelli travelled to Ayder Hospital in Mekelle, Ethiopia.

The purpose of the trip was to introduce an REI curriculum, as well as operative hysteroscopy for Obstetrics and Gynecology faculty and PGY 4 residents.

“The trip was a great opportunity to introduce UIC residents to medicine in Africa,” says Dr. Gelila Goba, Assistant Professor of OB/GYN at UIC.

“We also helped launch an REI curriculum, which is increasingly valuable in Africa.”

Creating a sustainable REI curriculum for the developing world

Historically, most medical and public health interventions have focused on curbing rapid population growth and addressing acute morbidity. As Ethiopia develops, reproductive endocrinology and infertility is becoming increasingly important.

Humberto Scoccia, MD, and Kristina Pontarelli, PGY3, working with Mekelle University Residents

Under the direction of Dr. Scoccia, UIC provided a one-week intensive REI curriculum, including daily didactics, outpatient REI and adolescent gynecology evaluations, simulations and hands-on surgical and ultrasound. Lectures were intensive and involved discussions about locally available diagnostic and standard of care options. In the outpatient clinic, Dr. Scoccia supervised the evaluation and management of a wide variety of patients, including a patient with androgen insensitivity syndrome, Müllerian agenesis, recurrent pregnancy loss, and infertility. Dr Scoccia also worked with residents in preoperative evaluation and patient counseling and provided surgical hands-on training and mentorship to senior residents in hysteroscopy, laparoscopy, chromopertubation, hysterosalpingogram, and saline infused sonography.

UIC OB/GYN residents gain valuable global women’s health experience

Third-year residents Dr. Harrison and Dr. Pontarelli travelled to Mekelle University where they helped lead Labor and Delivery rounds, and designed a labor and delivery multidisciplinary service sign-out system to facilitate patient care.

PGY3 Rachel Harrison and Mekelle University PGY4s updating sign-out board

“Ethiopia lacks many of the diagnostic and clinical resources available in the USA,” says Pontarelli, whose interests include patient compliance in prenatal screening and care.

“That said, it’s impressive what providers are able to offer with available resources.”

While on the ground, Pontarelli and Harrison assisted operative vaginal deliveries and surgeries including cesarean-section after protracted labor, post-cesarean re-exploration in a septic patient, and fistula surgeries. Harrison also worked with Dr. Yibrah Zelelew, Department Chair of OB/GYN at Mekelle University, to develop a high-risk obstetric rotation schedule and content for curriculum.

PGY3 Kristina Pontarelli in surgery with Mekelle University faculty and resients

“The residents are motivated and ready to incorporate standards common in the US,” says Harrison, a future MFM Specialist.

UIC and Mekelle University:  A budding collaboration

The partnership between UIC and Mekelle University dates back to 2015 when the two institutions signed an agreement to assist Mekelle University to strengthen its nascent OB/GYN residency program. The program, which started in 2012, will graduate its first class of OB/GYN Residents in 2016. Dr. Goba has been leading the partnership since 2012.

The collaboration is supported by a grant from the IDP Foundation, a Chicago-based foundation that invests in high-impact education in the US and globally.

Mekelle University is one of the leading university’s in the rapidly growing country and is at the forefront of research and international collaboration. Ayder Referral Hospital, the teaching hospital affiliated with the university, serves a catchment population of 8 million. It has an inpatient capacity of 500 beds and serves more than 100,000 patients every year.

In addition to medicine, Mekelle University houses leading faculties in information technology, engineering, and agricultural sciences. Unique among Ethiopian universities, Mekelle University provides academic opportunities to students from neighboring South Sudan, several of whom are completing OB/GYN residencies alongside Ethiopian peers.

Going forward, UIC will continue to work with Mekelle University to expand the OB/GYN collaboration with the goal of helping Mekelle University become a pre-eminent OB/GYN training program in Ethiopia and the broader region.

Research collaborations on cervical cancer, gender-based and sexual violence, and stillbirth are underway. (14/4)