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‘Respect and dignity’

Nursing professor travels to Ghana to support women and girls


By Marcia Porter

While many of us were resting over the holidays, Dr. Kimberly Jarvis was busy getting ready to spend three months in Ghana, West Africa.

Just after New Year’s, the Faculty of Nursing professor embarked on her 17-hour trip to Accra, Ghana’s capital and largest city, with a population of about 1.6 million.

“Going back to Ghana is like connecting with my African family,” said Dr. Jarvis. “I have a great team of people to work with who share in my passion for social justice, health equity, human dignity and global health. I feel so privileged.”

She’ll work on two projects during her stay in the country – projects that focus on women’s reproductive health and the eradication of a devastating condition called obstetric fistula.

Maternal, newborn and child health

This past summer, Dr. Jarvis received a Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing. It’s a scholarship program that seeks to address national and global challenges through capacity building and collaboration.

In Ghana, she’ll join her University of Alberta colleagues and fellow Queen Elizabeth II Scholar, Dr. Laura Chubb, also a Memorial University graduate, to work in some of the poorer areas of Accra.

Dr. Chubb teaches social work at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Their scholarship, titled Coming Together – Strengthening Partnerships between Ghana and Canada to Address Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, supports their respective research programs.

“The goal is to support young people in their efforts to be the best they can be.” — Dr. Kimberly Jarvis

Drs. Jarvis and Chubb, along with their Ghanaian colleagues, will work with young people at the Street Academy, a community-based organization that offers education, social work and nursing care and provides supports such as shelter and clothing to young people between the ages of 16-21.

Safe spaces for girls

A large number of children between the ages of six and 15 live on the streets in Accra, working as porters or sweepers in the markets to meet their daily needs.

In many communities, peer pressure, poverty and illiteracy, among other factors, encourage teenage girls to have children at an early age.

“The goal is to support young people in their efforts to be the best they can be,” said Dr. Jarvis. “This includes discussion about how to provide safe spaces for youth to talk about sexual and reproductive health and well-being.”

Dr. Jarvis spoke with CBC Radio’s Krissy Holmes about her research and work in Africa.
Photo: Submitted

Addressing obstetric fistula was the subject of her PhD research and is another important focus of her stay in Ghana.

Obstetric fistula is often the result of poor access to good obstetric care and results in a tear between the vagina and bladder and/or rectum caused by prolonged labour.

When left untreated, it becomes physically, psychologically and socially unbearable.

Obstetric fistula is a devastating maternal health condition affecting between 2-3 million women around the world.

Dr. Jarvis spoke to CBC Radio this past summer about her research on obstetric fistula and what she’s doing to support women who suffer with the stigmatizing condition.

“Working together to provide respect and dignity to some of the most vulnerable women and girls is such a human thing to do.” — Dr. Kimberly Jarvis

Before the team left for Ghana, the researchers received an early Christmas present to help with their work: a $20,000 Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) grant in support of their work to end obstetric fistula in Ghana.

Through her CIHR-funded grant, Dr. Jarvis and team will bring together Ghanaian women affected by OF, along with their families, policy-makers, service providers, non-governmental organizations, women’s advocates and researchers.

The goal is to create an action plan towards the prevention and care of obstetric fistula.

“Working together to provide respect and dignity to some of the most vulnerable women and girls in Ghana is so needed, and such a human thing to do. This is work that completely fills me,” said Dr. Jarvis.

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