School of Nursing Launches Major Research Capacity Building Effort with the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding formalizes a research collaboration effort in the study of non-communicable diseases.

The School of Nursing solidified their commitment to collaboration with Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health (MPH) on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding. According to Dean Kathleen Potempa, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Memorandum heralds the start of an exciting new partnership through which the two institutions can build research capacity, specifically in the area of non-communicable diseases. “[The project] launches a new pathway for us to build strong research training and research collaborative opportunities to better understand the needs of populations around non-communicable diseases, which are a concern in our country and a growing concern globally,” said Dean Potempa.

The delegation from Thailand in attendance at the signing ceremony included Dr. Tanongsan Sutatam, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s MPH, and Dr. Somkuan Hanpatchaiyakul, Director of the Praboromarajchanok Institute of Health Workforce Development (PIHWD). PIHWD is the organization with which the School of Nursing will be working directly on research development.

Working closely with Dean Potempa to put the Memorandum into effect was Dr. Lester Monts, Senior Provost for Academic Affairs. Dr. Monts commented, “The MOU signed by the University of Michigan School of Nursing and the Thailand Ministry of Public Health is an investment in the future, ensuring that Michigan students and faculty members will have meaningful opportunities to provide service and engage in professional development programs that will equip them with the skills to live and work in a global society.”
Dean Potempa recognizes this newest effort toward research collaboration as an important next step in a long and productive relationship between the two groups. The dean’s association with Thailand’s MPH stretches back more than a decade and encompasses her involvement at nearly every level of the Ministry, including with PIHWD, a division of MPH within the Office of the Permanent Secretary. In the past, Dean Potempa’s work has centered on educational capacity building, practice changes within the public health infrastructure, and support of the Ministry’s move toward nurse practioner education. More recently, she has focused her affiliation with the Ministry on research.

The signing of the Memorandum represents the introduction of the larger School of Nursing community into this dynamic partnership, primarily through the establishment of a Fogarty International Research Training Grant, effective for five years, to conduct research on non-communicable diseases. “Faculty from the School of Nursing and from other departments at the university will be key advisers during this process as well as mentors of the post-doctoral fellows that will emerge from these activities,” explained Dean Potempa.

Following the signing of the Memorandum, the next phase in the collaboration effort will be determining how best to meet the goals outlined by the Fogarty grant. Dr. Antonia Villarruel, Associate Dean for Research and Global Affairs at the School of Nursing, will play an integral role in the development and implementation of the research program. “Global experiences at the U-M School of Nursing need to create synergy with our core research, education, and practice missions,” commented Villarruel. “The signing of this Memorandum of Understanding and funds from Fogarty International Center provides the opportunity to develop an infrastructure that will support shared research and learning to advance science and care to people in both countries affected by non-communicable chronic diseases.”

Non-communicable, or chronic, disease management is an issue of particular importance to public health in countries like Thailand, whose primary focus in the recent past has been the treatment of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. As prevention for these types of diseases develops, and as diet and exercise habits of many global populations westernize, people are living longer and thus becoming more susceptible to non-communicable diseases. “[These countries] are starting to have an epidemiological picture more similar to the U.S. in terms of emergence of non-communicable diseases,” said Dean Potempa. Examples of these diseases include hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

As its population of nearly 70 million continues to experience a growing rate of non-communicable diseases, Thailand stands to benefit profoundly from the kind of research intended by the collaboration effort. According to a World Health Organization report, non-communicable disease accounted for 59% of all deaths in Thailand in 2002. In the United States, seven out of ten deaths are attributed to non-communicable diseases, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The need for research in this area for both countries, and many more worldwide, is clear.
At the signing ceremony, Dr. Mark Tessler, Vice Provost for International Affairs noted the significance of the Memorandum for the University as a whole. He stated, “The collaboration between our School of Nursing and the Thailand Ministry of Public Health is a most welcome addition to U-M’s growing list of significant international partnerships. It contributes to the international dimension of U-M’s mission and enhances our visibility in an important country in Southeast Asia. Even more important, the work that our Nursing faculty will be doing with their Thai counterparts responds very meaningfully to a significant and real-world need.”
Dr. Sofia Merajver, Director of U-M’s Center for Global Health, too, recognizes the value of the partnership to the University. She said, “The work the School of Nursing is undertaking with Thailand’s MPH is taking the University of Michigan to the level of excellence in global health to which we should all aspire: making a tangible difference in health equity globally.”
Units at the University of Michigan that were instrumental in assisting the School of Nursing in this historic effort include the International Institute, the Center for Global Health, and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.