UTHSC Grows Academic, Clinical Footprint Overseas with Partnership with Teaching Hospital in Zambia

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UTHSC Assistant Professor Denis Foretia, MD, third from right, is among the leaders of the UTHSC College of Medicine’s Global Surgery Institute and has been working for two years to establish a new partnership with Levy Mwanawasa University Medical Center in Zambia. He is shown on a previous visit to Zambia.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has signed a memorandum of understanding with a major teaching hospital in the capital city of Zambia to create an academic, clinical, and research partnership.

Denis Foretia, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at UTHSC, said the affiliation between UTHSC and Levy Mwanawasa Medical University (LMMU), a university hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, allows the institutions  to undertake a partnership in clinical care delivery; in teaching medical, nursing, pharmacy, and other health care students; and in research.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity, because the potential is really huge across the full spectrum of both universities,” said Dr. Foretia, who is one of the leaders of the UTHSC Global Surgery Institute, which was established in 2017 to provide opportunities for global surgical experience, teaching, and research for residents, students, and faculty to further the outreach mission of UTHSC, and in doing so, improve health care in Tennessee and the Mid-South.

“The memorandum that has been signed between the two universities presents an opportunity for the two institutions to share information and ideas in terms of education, research, and clinical practice,” said Laston Chikoya, MD, FCS, IFAANS, FZCMS, deputy vice chancellor for Administration at Levy Mwanawasa Medical University. “LMMU is a new and unique university tasked to train health professionals and run a teaching hospital. We have a new faculty that will need support in teaching methods and research. We can do joint clinical research at student and staff levels.”

Levy Mwanawasa University Medical Center in Zambia is designed to train health care professionals and run a teaching hospital.

Dr. Foretia, who was born in Cameroon, is dedicated to improving health outcomes in Africa. He joined UTHSC in 2017 to help build the newly established Global Surgery Institute, which has provided health care in Honduras, the Philippines, Tanzania, Japan, Iraq, Zambia, and elsewhere. The institute began primarily as overseas medical mission work and has grown, extending the university’s reach overseas and bringing knowledge and experience back to Memphis that stands to improve care at home.

Dr. Foretia has traveled to Africa seven times in recent years. Two trips to Zambia helped establish the partnership with Levy Mwanawasa Hospital. It has already resulted in UTHSC securing equipment to replace some outdated machinery in the hospital in Zambia. The official affiliation agreement, initially set to last three years, does not involve a financial commitment, however, it envisions long-term collaboration with students and faculty of both institutions.

“It’s really exciting to see this come to fruition,” Dr. Foretia said. “I’ve been working on it for two years.” He had been scheduled to travel to Zambia in the last few weeks. “Because of COVID, everything got changed.”

While he does not know when a UTHSC contingent will return to Zambia, Dr. Foretia said both universities are developing a “robust partnership” focused on research into neglected tropical diseases and emerging infectious diseases, and are working on a joint funding proposal to the National Institutes of Health.

“We are jointly submitting grants for research development to be able to use our expertise here and help develop our research capabilities in Zambia and allow our students, our residents, and our faculty to participate in this research endeavor,” Dr. Chikoya said. “The proposal looks to build the research capabilities of both sides.”

Other joint learning opportunities include Grand Rounds via the internet. “We have a lot of our students interested in traveling abroad and seeing how medicine is practiced outside of Memphis and outside of Tennessee and outside of the United States,” Dr. Foretia said. “To be able to incorporate that in our learning and growth, this agreement really focuses on that.”

Dr. Chikoya said it is anticipated that student and faculty exchange visits and clinical rotations can occur between the two universities post pandemic. “However, before that, we need to start to have virtual meetings and clinical presentations in various fields of medical practice from both sides,” he said. “We need to have departments from both sides to start to engage and establish links so that the partnership can begin to grow.”

As the university expands its global reach in pursuit of building a multicultural Global Health Initiative across all colleges, the benefits back home are great. For example, UTHSC students, who have traveled to Zambia, have been able to see disease progression and pathology that is not seen in the United States, Dr. Foretia said. They have also become aware of health care done with limited resources, making them more aware of eliminating waste when treating patients at home.

“We are extremely proud of the efforts and the accomplishments of Dr. Foretia and the entire UTHSC Global Surgery Institute team,” said David Shibata, MD, FACS, FASCRS, chair of the Department of Surgery at UTHSC. “The agreement with LMMU is yet another example of the spirit of multicultural partnership that is the foundation of the institute. I have no doubt this will be a win-win for both institutions and look forward to numerous successes.”