Collaborating across campuses and across continents, social work students and faculty from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) traveled to Nigeria in June to pursue studies in international research.
The group conducted its work in Abuja City and its environs under the guidance of Llewellyn Cornelius, PhD, LCSW, professor at the UM School of Social Work (SSW), and Joshua Okundaye, PhD, LCSW-C, LICSW, associate professor, UMBC Department of Social Work. Together the two teach an advanced global health disparities research course that draws students who are earning a master's degree in Baltimore or an undergraduate degree in social work in Catonsville.
For four of the 11 enrolled in the spring semester class, the course culminated in a firsthand look at the challenges and rewards of international research. They are UMB students Robi Rawl and Emily Van Oeveren and UMBC students Valeria Castrillo and Greta Sanchez.
They learned about psychosocial research being conducted by the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), which is an affiliate of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the UM School of Medicine (SOM). In the above photo taken by a staff member of IHVN during a visit to Dagiri, Nigeria, UMBC's Okundaye is second from the right and Sanchez is fifth from the left.
The trip from June 9-30 was the first of what is expected to be a series of collaborations between the two University System of Maryland institutions and IHVN.
"It's one thing to talk about research in class; it's another to see what they do," says Cornelius, referring to the students' observation of techniques used by IHVN, a multicultural, complex organization that has 61 sites in Nigeria. "We were able to witness cultural considerations relating to HIV care and disparities," he says.
Cornelius and Okundaye, who is a native of Nigeria, typically supervised teams made up of two students on daily trips to participating IHVN sites, the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH) in Gwagwalada, a town 29 miles from Abuja City, or the Mararaba Medical Center in Mararaba, 14 miles from Abuja City.
At the UATH and the Mararaba Medical Center, students interviewed women known as "mentor mothers" because of their outreach to childbearing women like themselves who are HIV-positive. The mentors seek to prevent the spread of the virus that causes AIDS through timely intervention with pregnant women, their children, and families within their communities, engaging them in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission support groups and helping secure pre- and postnatal care.
"It was incredibly humbling to be in the presence of these women. Each one has turned a devastating situation into a lifesaving mission," says Rawl of the mentors and their trainees.
The students also examined psychosocial data from the files of more than 100 HIV-positive patients, and presented a review of published social work research related to international HIV/AIDS that had been compiled by all those taking the SSW/UMBC course.
The group also went to a church; a government office; and the Poorest of The Poor Centre, Anawim Home, which is a home in Gwagwalada that organizes activities for orphans and street children, commercial sex workers, people with mental illness, and pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS.
Castrillo mentioned the various locations in Nigeria in her observations on the value of a social work career, saying she learned that "psychosocial assessment and support systems are vital" in treating HIV/AIDS.
Gabou Mendy, MD, MPH&TM, executive director of IHVN's Office of Clinical and Community Program and assistant professor of medicine at the SOM's IHV, has been instrumental in facilitating the studies. He says the interaction has had a positive impact upon IHVN by providing its staff "broadened social services tools and assessments to augment medical case management; collaborative research in social sciences; and advocacy with officials of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare."
Mendy adds, "The students also had a perspective of Nigeria that is not always evident from established impressions and recent news reports." The program was made possible in part by SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW; Carolyn Tice, PhD, associate dean and program chair of the baccalaureate social work department at UMBC; Emilia Iwu, MSN, APNC, a staff member of IHVN and assistant professor at the UM School of Nursing; and Jody Olsen, PhD, MSW, visiting professor and SSW director of UMB's Student Center for Global Education .