September 28, 2009

Nursing receives prestigious WHO redesignation

The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing has earned the World Health Organization’s regional Pan American Health Organization redesignation as a collaborating center for nursing information, knowledge management and sharing.

Of the 46 nursing programs worldwide that are WHO collaborating centers, Johns Hopkins’ is the only one with information and communications technology as its focal point. Overall, WHO has 800 collaborating centers in 90 countries, covering such areas as occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and health technologies.

The redesignation runs through August 2013 and can be further renewed. The initial designation was in 2005.

Patricia Abbott, co-director of the school’s Collaborating Center for Knowledge, Information Management and Sharing, said that the WHO redesignation recognizes the center’s being “way, way out in front of the curve” in harnessing information communications technology, or ICT, to improve the exchange of health information.

“The world is moving toward understanding the power of information technology in health,” she said. “[The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing] figured out early on that there’d be a surge in ICT and health. The WHO has concomitantly begun to harness the power of IT in health. With our expertise in that area, and our extensive, worldwide nursing outreach, [the School of Nursing] is very well-positioned to capitalize upon the changing global landscape.”

Among the contributions that the center had made in sharing its expertise with nurses, midwives and other medical professionals abroad is tailoring its packaging of information to the limited bandwidth capabilities in many developing countries. More than 2,000 medical professionals from 136 countries are active in the school’s Global Alliance of Nursing and Midwifery, where they share best practices and network electronically. Abbott serves as GANM’s moderator.

“Hundreds of exchanges have been facilitated by GANM,” Abbott said, noting, for example, a primary care physician in Diyala province, Iraq, who sought advice on addressing a measles outbreak under combat conditions; respondents included retired American nurses who had served in Vietnam. In another instance, health workers serving the Inuit population in Canada’s Northwestern Territories were advised by nurses in Bolivia on how best to work with indigenous peoples.

“I’m looking at it, thinking, These people never would have met otherwise, and the knowledge in our heads would not have been shared with those who need it the most,” Abbott said. “For me as a nurse, it’s been incredibly rewarding and humbling. It opens the channels of communication. All of a sudden, geography becomes irrelevant; we are able to reach out, share our knowledge for the good of people all over the world”