Johnstown Resident Helps to Deliver Maternity Care in Africa
Duquesne Physician Assistant Students Combine with Foundation to Provide Services, Supplies
A constant around the world is that women have babies—whether in the U.S. or in Liberia.
But in Liberia, only 51 percent of all births are attended by skilled health care providers, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).
Laura Berkebile of Johnstown, four other Duquesne University physician assistant students and a faculty advisor are walking into this scenario, offering their expertise and assistance in the obstetrics/gynecology ward of ELWA Hospital in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
From July 1 to July 17, the fifth-year Duquesne students will serve in the maternity ward of the West African hospital, providing pre- and post-natal care as well as inpatient care; treating tropical diseases; and volunteering in an ambulatory clinic set in the rural countryside, which offers a lower level of care than is available in Monrovia.
“We’re going from Pittsburgh, one of the best places in the world for health care, to one of the poorest countries,” said Mark Freeman, the trip’s faculty mentor and assistant professor in Duquesne’s physician assistant program. “Hopefully, it will give us a new perspective on our own health care in the U.S. We’re going to see illnesses we just read about—malaria, typhoid and other diseases that we think are under control.”
The trip is a combination of service and completion of one of eight required clinical rotations. Department Chair Dr. Bridget Calhoun, along with Dr. Eileen Zungolo, dean of the School of Nursing, and Dr. Gregory Frazer, dean of the Rangos School of Health Sciences, visited Liberia in February to explore the learning possibilities for students and clinicians, as well as opportunities to help provide care during this upcoming trip.
“Students have gone abroad in the past on clinical locations, but it’s new for us to couple with Brother’s Brother Foundation, and it’s the first time our students are working in Liberia,” Freeman said.
Brother’s Brother, a Pittsburgh-based foundation, promotes international health and education, sending donated medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and other supplies abroad.
A shipment from Brother’s Brother is heading to Liberia with financial support for the shipping donated by attorney Robert Peirce Jr., a 1962 Duquesne law school graduate. Peirce, who has visited Liberia twice and is planning a third trip this August, brought the foundation’s efforts to the attention of Duquesne and provided financial support for the DU contingent.
The Duquesne group has helped to collect supplies, some of which they will carry with them. Supplies that exceed the allowed 300 pound weight limit—likely 600-plus pounds of goods—will be donated to Brother’s Brother to be shipped at a later date, Freeman said.
Among the supplies are a microscope that Freeman said will “totally change how one of the clinicians does his work” and a laptop that will connect a physician assistant working in the bush to the rest of the world.
Freeman anticipates a huge impact on all involved: students, their Liberian counterparts and the patients.
Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.