Dr. Benjamin Aflakpui at his clinic in Central University College in Accra, Ghana
Dr. Benjamin Aflakpui at his clinic in Central University College in Accra, Ghana.

UNM students working with Regents' Professor Charlotte Nirmalani (Lani) Gunawardena in online graduate learning classes have succeeded in winning a competitive grant that will give infants and their mothers in Ghana a better chance for a healthy life. Four graduate students from the Organizational Learning and Instructional Technology program including Nicole Berezin, Grace Faustino, Caitlin Legere and Adrian Carstens, helped to develop the grant proposal.

They partnered with Benjamin Aflakpui, a physician at Central University College in Accra, Ghana, Mohamad Ally at Athabasca University and Aga Palalas of George Brown University in Canada to form a virtual partnership for this project in social entrepreneurship. Gunawardena says collaborative work on the grant proposal was all done online.

The $113,000 competitive grant comes from Grand Challenges Canada, an organization funded by the Canadian Government. It will buy tablets for 30 students who are studying to be physician assistants in rural areas of Ghana. The students will go to Central University College to learn how to use the tablets and how to learn at a distance. They will then return to their communities and continue to see patients while they undertake the online training to improve their knowledge in maternal health and ways to reduce infant mortality.

This summer Gunawardena and two of the UNM students will visit Ghana to help set up the online program. Parts of the online curriculum are modeled after the mentoring concept of UNM's Project ECHO and will allow the physician assistants to consult with faculty members at Central University College on difficult cases. This grant will allow Ghana to double the number of physician assistants who can be trained at one time.

Gunawardena says the project is possible because Ghana has a good wireless network. The grant will cover expenses for 18 months. During that time she and her Ghanaian and Canadian colleagues will prepare a grant request for $1 million. They hope to work with the Ministry of Health in Ghana to expand online classes to a larger group of health providers in the country.
Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other global health foundations and organizations to fund sustainable long-term solutions through integrated innovation. The organization is dedicated to supporting ideas with big impacts in global health.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627, kwent2@unm.edu