Elmhurst and Ethiopian hospitals exchange doctors to provide better care for patients with HIV

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BY Kathleen Lucadamo

Ethiopia and Elmhurst are worlds apart, but a partnership between hospitals in both places is helping doctors better treat their patients.

For the past four years, Elmhurst Hospital has exchanged doctors with Debre Berhan Hospital in rural Ethiopia in the hopes of sharing ideas and teaching African medical workers ways to prevent infection and provide HIV treatment.

“There were basically no precautions taken [to prevent infection]. The assumption is everyone has been exposed so no one is at risk, but that’s not true,” said Joseph Masci, Elmhurst’s head of medicine, who heads up the partnership.

They encouraged nurses at Debre Berhan Hospital to wash their hands, for example, giving them statistics on how paying for soap would save them money treating infections.

They stressed the importance of record-keeping and reaching out to HIV patients who miss appointments, as well as quarantining tuberculosis patients.

But the federally funded project has moved beyond AIDS work. An Ethiopian health commissioner and a university president toured the Queens hospital last week to discuss starting a medical school in Debre Berhan and dealing with basic patient communication.

“The hospital is neat and they are working as a team. They care for their patients, and that is an important lesson for me,” said Getachew Tefera, president of Debre Berhan University.

The Ethiopian entourage said it were impressed by how efficiently staffers worked and welcomed their patients – which they plan to duplicate at Debre Berhan Hospital.

And Masci said his team picked up a few tips while in Africa members can practice in Queens, namely the possibility of texting patients to follow up on care.

“You think, ‘If we can consider it in that environment, why not here?’ ” Masci said.

But mostly, he said the visits – a handful of Elmhurst doctors have visited Debre Berhan about a half-dozen times – have reinvigorated his staff about their commitment to medicine and patients.

“It’s easy to feel hopeless, but once you focus on one patient at a time, it’s easier,” he said.

klucadamo@nydailynews.com