Forging New Paths in Global Women's Health

Dec 20, 2016

Author: Heidi Singer

A new medical specialty in global women’s health is emerging -- and the University of Toronto Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is harnessing Toronto’s strength as one of the world’s most diverse cities to lead the way.

Maternal Health- The Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has launched Canada’s first fellowship in Global Women’s Health and Equity, which will recruit a new Obstetrician/Gynaecologist (OBGYN) each year into a two-year fellowship program designed to empower a new generation of OBGYNs to practice women’s health in a global context. Among other experiences, the fellows will run a longitudinal gynecology clinic at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) and work extensively with Field Director in Reproductive Health, Dr. Astrid Christoffersen-Deb, in the Department’s global health partnership through a health care access partnership (AMPATH), Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya. In addition, by partnering with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), the fellow will spend time in Thunder Bay to gain an appreciation of Indigenous women’s health in Canada.

The fellowship will equip learners with a wide variety of cultural competencies and knowledge of social justice issues around reproductive and sexual health.

“A lot of people have been practising dimensions of global health without specialized training,” said Rachel Spitzer, Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Global Health for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. “We want to consolidate postgraduate training in this important and growing area of our specialty, thereby developing a community of teachers for future generations of medical students, physicians in training and allied health professionals. We also wish to equip them with academic skills to advance research in global health.”

There are a few similar programs in the U.S., but multicultural Toronto is the ideal setting for anyone wanting to study global health, Spitzer said. “Already, we’re practicing it.”

Focussing on global women’s health “will give people a sensitivity to learn about the needs of women in these populations, even if they’re not going to be an expert in every place these women come from or language they speak,” Spitzer noted.

Mental health is an important component – learning specifically how to deal with people who have experienced trauma through an increased awareness and sensitivity to their suffering and its effects. The partnership with NOSM was facilitated through U of T OBGYN graduate Dr. Naana Jumah, who will provide individual fellows with an opportunity to learn about the delivery of women’s health care in rural and Indigenous communities and provide expertise in addiction medicine.

The first fellow has already begun, with graduation set for June 2017.

“I am delighted to see the successful launch of this exciting fellowship training program here at the University of Toronto, Canada’s most diverse city,” says Professor John Kingdom, chair of OBGYN. “The initiative brings together many interested groups at U of T, and partners them with NOSM, and with Moi University in Kenya. It is fitting that the first fellow graduates in June 2017, as this date marks the tenth anniversary of the partnership between U of T and Moi University, established by our former chair, Dr. Alan Bocking. It’s wonderful that his vision for global women’s health can be celebrated is such an exciting way, 10 years later”

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