New partnership to bring better health to Africa's refugees

UNHCR is teaming up with the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) to deliver the latest nursing knowledge and training to health professionals working with refugees in Africa. The Nursing Library Project is delivering 50 ICN/MSD Nursing Libraries for Refugee Health to health care workers in Tanzania and Zambia, which together host some 770,000 refugees.

GENEVA, Feb. 24 (UNHCR) - UNHCR has teamed up with the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) to deliver the latest nursing knowledge and training to health professionals working with refugees in Africa.

The Nursing Library Project, launched Friday at UNHCR's Geneva headquarters, will next month begin delivering 50 ICN

/ MSD Nursing Libraries for Refugee Health to health workers in Tanzania and Zambia, countries which together host some 770,000 refugees.

"Refugees are among the world's most vulnerable and excluded populations, and constantly face serious risks to their health," said UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin. "The health workers who work alongside UNHCR staff in the field rarely have up-to-date health care books and are far from well-furnished hospitals or expert advice on critical health issues. The access to current health information provided by the ICN / MSD Nursing Libraries and the related training will be a goldmine for them. This programme will help to fill a serious gap in refugee health care."

The ready-made portable libraries include the latest nursing and health care information and provide training to better meet refugee health needs. The libraries were developed in 2001 to provide up-to-date nursing and health information to nurses as well as to other health care staff working in remote areas in developing countries so they can better serve their communities. In 2004, UNHCR joined ICN / MSD in a pilot project that provided 12 of the libraries to refugee-affected areas in north-west Tanzania - eight in refugee camps and four in surrounding districts.

Following the success of that pilot scheme, the three partners are now expanding the project by sending 50 libraries to refugee-affected areas in Tanzania and Zambia. Of these, about 40 will be located in refugee camps and 10 in surrounding districts. Each library will be managed by a local co-ordinator under the supervision of UNHCR field staff and national nurses' associations. Over the next five years, the goal is to reach nurses and other health workers in refugee settings across Africa, improving the quality of care for millions of people.

"This is very motivating for the nurses to have access to updated resources they can use to improve their care to the patients," said Judith Oulton, Chief Executive Officer for the Geneva-based International Council of Nurses, a federation of 129 national associations representing more than 13 million nurses worldwide. "In the previous pilot projects we had, we saw that they were so hungry for up-to-date information, and that they would read a book from cover to cover."

Each library unit consists of a sturdy, transportable trunk that is resistant to moisture and insects. Each contains about 80 titles, covering topics ranging from family and community health, disease prevention and health promotion to surgery and anaesthesia, health services management and training.

"The concept of this library is that the books contained in it are accessible and nurses can apply the recommendations directly to their patients," said Nadine Cornier, UNHCR reproductive and child health officer.

Each library container costs $2,500, including transport to its final destination. As of early 2006, MSD and ICN had already distributed more than 140 mobile libraries in 16 countries - the vast majority in Africa.

"Through the Mobile Libraries, we can contribute our expertise in medicine and health to help address the education and training needs of nurses and at the same time build capacity and enhance the quality of health care for African communities," said Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, Vice President, External Affairs, at MSD.

By Hélène Caux
in Geneva