staff, September 29, 2014

In a sense, it?s not a bad problem to have. Healthcare in Thailand has focused on communicable illnesses such as malaria and influenza over the past few decades, and efforts in that area have been so successful that non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cancer have passed them up as causes of death in that country. This means people are living longer overall, but their lives are now cut short by inadequate education and medical treatment for previously exotic ailments like heart disease.

To help turn the focus of that nation?s healthcare system to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the University of Michigan is bringing nurses and other medical professionals from Thailand to Ann Arbor for a year to learn how to create suitable treatment programs back home.

The project, named ?Strengthening NCD Research and Training Capacity in Thailand,? is funded by a $1.15 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes for Health. It builds on a 20-year relationship between health officials in Thailand and the University of Michigan.

?We want to put an emphasis on non-communicable disease research in Thailand,? said Kathleen Potempa, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the University of Michigan?s School of Nursing. ?They have done a great job in terms of communicable diseases, but we have seen a rapid increase in non-communicable - or what we call chronic - disease, and we need more research and evidence of how we can treat it and reduce it in their context. They don?t have the infrastructure or training to do it right now.?

Kathleen Potempa, Ph.D., R.N
Kathleen Potempa, Ph.D., R.N

For Potempa, this is a matter of personal interest. She started facilitating relationships among health officials in Thailand and the U.S. - ?building capacity for nursing education, training and then sending them back to populate the Ministry,? as she put it - while working at another college. When she joined the staff at the University of Michigan in 2006, Potempa strengthened the existing bond between the institution and Thailand.

One of the new program?s goals is to alert students from the Thai Ministry of Health that their help is needed in NCD study and treatment. It?s estimated that 60 percent of deaths (about 7.9 million) in Southeast Asia are caused annually by NCDs.

The University of Michigan is working with the Praboromarajchanok Institute for Health Workforce Development to provide instructors, mentors and advisors for the nurses and health officials. Under the guidelines of the new initiative, two people each year will travel from Thailand to Ann Arbor to perform mentored research for one year, then do a year of project implementation in Thailand. Also, as many as eight people will do short-term study at the University of Michigan for one to three months to develop skills in methodology, analysis and policy.

While no University of Michigan faculty or staff will be permanently stationed in Thailand, there will be constant movement of people between the two places to facilitate learning and advancement of the program.

?Various members of our staff will travel to Thailand regularly for short periods,? Potempa said. ?Then we?re doing a major program next spring where we have invited people from around the country to come to Thailand to do non-communicable disease research for a week or so. We have faculty members who will be going in October doing a seminar in one of the regions on the topic of management of diabetes.

?We want to help turn the heads of scientists in any of the health disciplines toward understanding the methodology for treatment of non-communicable diseases, and put more of their research into NCD study.?

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