Healing Beyond Borders: Global Health Initiative’s Mission in Ukraine

Global Health Initiative’s Workshop in Ukraine
Stories of Impact

Healing Beyond Borders: Global Health Initiative’s Mission in Ukraine

June 27, 2024 | by Allison Fomby

Global Health Innovation team brings expertise, hope and vital resources to strengthen rehabilitation services amidst ongoing conflict

Belmont’s Global Health Initiative, led by Dr. Shelby Garner, director, Global Health Innovation and Dr. Ben Ryan, professor of Public Health and Global Initiatives in the Thomas F. Frist, Jr. College of Medicine, supports Belmont’s goal of radically championing life abundant for all people by establishing partnerships internationally that support human flourishing in communities around the world. Currently, the team is working on health care projects in countries including India, Tanzania, and Indonesia, among others. 

Ukraine Mission 

The Global Health Innovation team recently brought hope and expertise to a nation in crisis. Garner, Ryan and Taryn McCoy, the Global Health Coordinator, arrived in Lviv, a city in Ukraine that has become a hub for rehabilitation services for those injured in the conflict. Their primary destination was Unbroken, Ukraine's national leader in rehabilitation services. Here, injured civilians and soldiers receive critical care for lost limbs and other war-related injuries. The team's goal was to help strengthen rehabilitation services in a country grappling with the harsh realities of war.  

“Ukraine is predominantly a Christian country a very peaceful country, that had just been invaded,” shared Ryan.  "Top of mind for us was, ‘what skills and expertise can we bring to the table to help them to sustain things now, but thrive into the future?’” 

The team conducted a workshop, applying United Nations principles to prioritize strategies for improving rehabilitation services. Key recommendations emerged from this collaborative effort, including the development of an action plan to enhance accessibility in Lviv for people with disabilities. With the demographic shift caused by war injuries, Ukraine faces the challenge of adapting its infrastructure to accommodate a growing population of disabled individuals. 

From this collaborative effort, three key objectives emerged, each addressing a critical aspect of Ukraine's evolving health care needs:

Developing an action plan for accessibility in Lviv:

The war has caused a significant shift in Ukraine's demographics, with a sharp increase in the number of people with disabilities. Drawing parallels to the aftermath of previous conflicts like World War I and Vietnam, the team recognized the urgent need to make cities more accessible.

Retrofitting homes for increased accessibility:

Recognizing that recovery extends beyond hospital walls, the team prioritized the need to adapt individual homes. This objective focuses on building local capacity to modify residences, ensuring that those with newly acquired disabilities can navigate their personal spaces safely and independently.

Enhancing trauma care knowledge in communities:

The team identified a crucial gap in community-level trauma care. This objective aims to develop training programs that will equip community members with the skills to provide informed trauma care, creating a network of support beyond professional medical settings.

The workshop focused on pulling together crucial health care pieces and system requirements. It gave leaders the tools to kickstart improvements in the rehab system's overall capacity. Plus, it paved the way for leadership to dig deeper into the system's complex issues and come up with action plans for top-priority needs. 

Following the workshop, Dr. Ryan visited Lviv National Medical University and met with faculty to explore public health priorities, needs, research and capacity-building opportunities, and was able to present the Thomas F. Frist, Jr. College of Medicine Hatch Show print to hosts. 

On Orthodox Easter Sunday, members of the team visited a memorial for Lviv's war casualties. The sight of countless graves, many belonging to men aged 27 to 60, underscored the devastating impact on friends, colleagues and more broadly Ukraine's workforce and social fabric.  

Health Care Simulation Training  

Amidst this backdrop of loss and resilience, the Belmont team focused on capacity strengthening. They connected with First Medical Union Lviv and Unbroken, offering their expertise to help sustain and improve health care services. A significant part of their mission involved conducting "train the trainer" courses in health care Simulation, equipping local nurses and health care professionals with vital skills. 

In a gesture of unity, Belmont University donated gently used simulation equipment, including a high-fidelity human patient simulator. This donation was particularly timely as Lviv is working to start its own simulation program. 

The team conducted several simulations, including the "Stop the Bleed" program designed by the American College of Surgeons. This training aimed to empower local nurses to teach community members how to respond to severe bleeding in mass casualty events. 

“This was designed to help nurses in this area be able to go out into the community and teach people how to intervene when there is a mass casualty event or in any case when immediate first aid response is needed,” Garner noted.  

Additionally, the team led simulations focused on developing critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills of nurses in rehabilitation care — particularly pre- and post-amputation care and longer-term needs. 

Beyond physical care, the team recognized the critical need for mental health support. They encountered patients and health care workers alike struggling with the psychological impacts of war. One particularly moving moment came when they met a soldier who had lost an arm. He was engaging in art therapy, painting Easter eggs with the Tree of Life, symbolizing resurrection and hope. 

The team's interactions with local nurses revealed the deep emotional toll of the conflict. Many health care workers were dealing with secondary trauma, caring for patients while worrying about their own loved ones on the front lines. One nurse shared her harrowing experience of working in a bombed hospital in Mariupol, bringing to light the extreme conditions under which Ukrainian health care professionals operate. 

Lasting Impact and Future Collaboration 

Before their departure, the Belmont team was invited to provide input on the development of Lviv's future simulation laboratory and to maintain their collaborative efforts in strengthening health systems. This request demonstrated the significance of their visit. The experience left a profound impact on both the visiting team and their Ukrainian counterparts, establishing relationships that extended beyond national boundaries and illustrating the effectiveness of international cooperation during challenging periods. 

“We're just really honored to be able to come alongside them and help in any way that we can and hope that we can have a long term and sustainable presence there in the years to come,” Garner shared.  

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