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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 4 | Apr. 7, 2005

New UBC Program Essential for International Aid Workers

By Brenda Austin

Karen Lund prepared to change careers and teach in the nursing program in Dhaka, Bangladesh by taking the UBC course in international health and development.

This course is one of five in the new Certificate in International Development (CID), offered by Continuing Studies at the Centre for Intercultural Communication.

“This is a flexible, mainly web-based certificate that can be taken part-time while working, as long as it is completed within three years,” says CID Program Manager Leah Macfadyen.

Although Lund has been a researcher in academic health sciences, many who take the course do not have a healthcare background. They might be members of non-governmental organizations, engineers, bankers or educators -- people who want to lend their skills in ways that enhance the broader vision of health.

This vision extends further than freedom from illness and disease to include sustainable development, access to clean water, human rights, security and safety.

The variety of backgrounds of the students is a positive factor, says Dr. Michael Seear, professor of clinical medicine and pediatric respirologist at BC’s Children’s Hospital. He is the instructor for the international health and development course and presently in Sri Lanka where he is providing assistance after the Tsunami disaster in December 2004.

“Every discipline and every profession or job in some way impacts on someone’s health somewhere in the world,” he says. “And for every activity we undertake there is a medical price to pay, whether it is due to agricultural policies or goods manufactured in sweatshops.”

For his own participation in Sri Lanka, Seear and others, funded by the Asian Medical Doctors’ Association, set up a functional children’s ward from a rough hospital in the village of Srila Kalmunai, one of the poorest areas on the east coast of Sri Lanka. This includes a school and counselling services for children with depression.

Seear’s course raises awareness of international health and aid issues as well as cultural, social, economic and political environments aid workers might encounter which could hinder effective use of relief monies.

“We sometimes suspend belief, thinking if we give money or goods to aid agencies, we are helping. But this is not always the case,” Seear says. “We have to be aware of fakes and crooks, of money not reaching those for whom it is intended.”

Seear stresses that no student should leave university without understanding the impact and importance of health issues around the world. Many students are idealistic, they are nice people and want to “do good,” but it is more complicated than that.

“To tie in with the global vision UBC has, we need a university degree in International Health,” Seear believes. “We would be first in the field and it would meet the needs for competent, aware people who could include this with studies in their own discipline.”

Lund took the international health and development course after planning for two years to move from health sciences research into something that focused more on people and would allow her to see another part of the world. The project she chose focuses on improving the standard and status of nursing in Bangladesh.

“What Dr. Seear’s course did more than anything was to teach me not to impose my own assumptions on other cultures,” Lund said. “It was an eye-opener for me to discover how much well-intentioned aid funding is wasted because those who hope to help don’t communicate well with the people receiving aid. Without the health course, I could have been one of that group.

“The Web-based framework was fabulous because it saved me so much time commuting to classes. You miss out on the personal interaction with the instructors, but the online communication is excellent,” she said.

The CID program is also useful to people in Canada who work with multicultural communities, Macfadyen says. Marie-Claude Lavoie is one such person, currently working in Iqaluit, Nunavut as an occupational therapist.

“I have been very pleased with the CID program,” Lavoie emailed from Nunavut. “There are unique challenges here of over-crowded housing, malnutrition and the presence of TB. There is much financial need, but the Inuit are very rich in culture and traditions.”

For more information visit: www.cic.cstudies.ubc.ca/cid.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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