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Emergency Medicine team trains health care professionals in West Africa

Teaching providers to use portable ultrasound aims to address health disparities in The Gambia


A team from the UC Davis Health Department of Emergency Medicine is training providers in The Gambia to deliver health care using portable ultrasound equipment.

The crucial initiative aims to enhance the diagnostic capabilities of medical professionals in The Gambia and improve access to care. The training program focuses on diagnosing heart and lung conditions.

Group of people standing around patient laying on hospital bed looking at their stomach on an ultrasound screen.
Christine McBeth and her team provided hands-on simulations with handheld ultrasound probes.

The UC Davis team is training the providers to use Point of Care Ultrasound (POCUS), a convenient diagnostic tool that is increasingly being employed in hard-to-reach communities because of its portability.

POCUS can assess patients wherever they are located. It is a vital tool in remote settings because it enables the diagnosis and treatment of critically ill patients without having to be in a clinic or hospital.

“The Gambia is a perfect environment for portable ultrasounds to make a real difference in patient care and to save lives,” said Christine McBeth, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at UC Davis Health and course director of the training program. “These reliable tools provide real-time information on how to best treat patients and allow us to monitor a patient’s response to their treatment.”

During their recent trip to The Gambia, McBeth and her team provided a week of classroom training with interactive team-based learning activities. The training was funded by the Department of Emergency Medicine, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Sustainable Cardiovascular Health Equity Development Alliance (SCHEDA) and Medical Research Council Unit. SCHEDA donated four handheld ultrasound probes along with iPads.

The following week, the group from UC Davis led the local providers in hands-on simulations with real-life patient scenarios.

“The goal of the training program was to teach these local health care professionals how to use the POCUS tools so they can provide care to acutely ill patients with respiratory and cardiac conditions after we leave,” McBeth added.

Christine McBeth
The goal of the training program was to teach these local health care professionals how to use the POCUS tools so they can provide care to acutely ill patients with respiratory and cardiac conditions after we leave.” Christine McBeth

Addressing health care disparities in The Gambia

The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in continental Africa, sharing its borders entirely with Senegal, except for its picturesque coastline along the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

While the West Africa nation has made substantial strides in health care access and delivery, it still struggles with a scarcity and unequal distribution of its health care workforce. A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the country's skilled health care workers stand at a modest 1.33 for 1,000 people, which is short of the WHO benchmark.

Additionally, health care facilities in the country are concentrated in urban regions, which creates disparities between urban and rural communities.

“We hope this training will enhance the capacity for health care providers to provide precise and timely medical interventions to patients in these rural and underserved communities,” explained McBeth. “It is a great starting point, and we will continue with ongoing lectures, quality assurance and follow-up education and training to ensure it is utilized in the best way possible, with patient safety always at the forefront.”

Committed to improving the well-being of all

The multidisciplinary team's visit to The Gambia in January was in line with UC Davis and UC Davis Health’s efforts surrounding global health. Known as One Health, the interdisciplinary approach recognizes the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment and aims to identify and address the fundamental causes of poor health to improve the well-being of all.

“Our physicians, staff and students can grow through trips like this by gaining practical experience which will reinforce medical knowledge, learning about the many social determinants of health, and gaining experience in cultural competency,” explained Shakira Bandolin, director for global health at UC Davis Health. “By gaining experience with different populations around the world — with different cultures and belief systems — global health rotations instill an appreciation for diversity and the importance of practicing among underserved and multicultural populations.”

UC Davis Health recently established a new Center for Global Health. The center was created to improve collaboration, organization, financial and administrative support for all specialties and health care providers to improve health and equity for all patients across the globe. Through ongoing collaborations with domestic and international partners, the center creates opportunities for students, residents, fellows and faculty to train to be conscientious health care practitioners. The center also allows UC Davis Health providers to participate in clinical, educational and research endeavors with their global partners.

“We understand that a patient’s health is influenced by many factors including their environment, access to health care, socioeconomic status, and other complex social determinants of health,” said Nathan Kuppermann, associate dean for global health at the UC Davis School of Medicine. “We are committed to high-quality care for all patients, especially the most vulnerable in our communities and abroad. We aim to collaborate on clinical care, education, research and infrastructure development with our global partners. This commitment raises the bar to care for our patients throughout our health system and across the globe.”