Seed-Funded Projects Strengthen Health Technology and Training Collaboration with Africa

New seed-funded projects promote joint activities between Finnish and African partners in health research, education and innovation.

Creating and maintaining cooperation with academic institutions on the African continent has been an important part of University of Turku’s international activities for a long time. The University has been working with a research team in Tanzania on various topics for nearly 20 years and it also has an overseas campus in Namibia. The University is also one of the founding members of the Southern African – Nordic Centre (SANORD) network which is dedicated to fostering strategic, multilateral academic cooperation between institutions in Southern Africa and the Nordic regions. In December 2022, a delegation from the University will attend the 14th SANORD International Conference at the University of Limpopo in South Africa to discuss and identify solutions for the conference’s theme Nexus between Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and South North Partnerships.

The current International Programme of the University of Turku places a strong emphasis on promoting transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, education, and innovation in Africa. An important network facilitating collaboration with African higher education institutions is the Finland-Africa Platform for Innovation (FAPI, SDG 9), coordinated by the University of Turku. In addition to its coordinator role, the University of Turku is involved in three other networks with an African focus: Southern African and Finnish Higher Education Institutions’ Network for Health and Well-Being (SAFINET), Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning (GINTL) and EDUCase Platform.

Earlier this year, the University of Turku issued an internal seed funding call for global pilot projects of the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Internationalisation Programme. Six of the projects selected for funding focus on cooperation with Africa partners. Two of these projects, namely Co-innovation of an Affordable and Effective Training Solution for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for Africa (ResuGloves – hereafter referred to as Maendeleo) and Africa Finland Education Network (AFFEN), are centred on collaboration between Finnish and African partners in promoting health-related research and education.

Cooperation in Health Technology and Training

The first objective of the Maendeleo project is to use the ResuGloves research project as the starting point. The aim is to address the severe deficit in the delivery of quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in sub-Saharan Africa, caused by inadequate CPR training and the lack of technology and devices to support quality CPR training. To address this deficit, researchers from the University of Turku, together with African and other Finnish partners, have proposed affordable, portable and easy-to-use gloves for CPR training.

The ResuGloves project kicked off already in 2020 when Aalto University and the University of Turku started a collaboration to develop wearable technology to support CPR training and pre-hospital resuscitation for scarce resource conditions. As a result of the collaboration, a prototype of the ResuGloves product was created. ResuGloves refers to resuscitation gloves which give feedback on the technical implementation of resuscitation to those who practice it.

“The project was presented at the SANORD-FAPI meeting in August 2021 to African partners, through which two universities became interested in collaborating on combining health and technology topics in education. This beginning of the collaboration inspired the search for funding, and now, after receiving seed funding, cooperation in education, research and innovation is becoming concrete,” says Sanna Salanterä, Professor at the Department of Nursing Science.

The AFFEN project also focuses on promoting medical education and research on the African continent. The project’s emphasis, however, is on maternal and childhood health. One of its long-term goals is to provide “train the trainers” online courses for teachers of medicine and nursing science in Namibia, Rwanda and Tanzania. Furthermore, the project aims to achieve educational cooperation in maternity and child health care and establish reliable long-distance links to primary health care, first in Namibia and later in Rwanda and Tanzania. The objective is to improve inter-professional education and practice, to use e-learning applications also in rural clinical settings, to promote community engagement in improving maternal and child health and to enable meaningful faculty development.

“This collaborative project has actually started already in 2008 when Satu Hakanurmi, Development Manager of the current Teaching Support Unit at the University of Turku, interviewed Professor Jussi Mertsola about case-based online teaching in medicine for her book Become an eTeacher in a week. This was the beginning of a wide range of collaborations in the development of e-learning,” says Eeva Rainio, Head of Faculty Development at the Faculty of Medicine.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded globally in 2020, teachers and students around the world had to adapt to new teaching and learning methods almost overnight.

“During the COVID pandemic, there was a global need for online teaching, and Mertsola and Hakanurmi launched the three-week online teaching courses Introduction to Online learning & Course design for online teachers. Courses were organised both globally and specifically in Indonesia and Vietnam. Inspired by the good course feedback, the courses were also extended to Africa with the help of Professor Olli Vainio and his networks in several African universities and hospitals,” Rainio continues.

AFFEN project partners from Africa standing in a line smiling
AFFEN project partners visited in Turku in October 2022 to learn about maternal and child health care and medical education in Finland.

Seed-Funding Creates a Basis for Sustainable Collaboration with African Partners

Maendeleo and AFFEN projects aim to build and intensify long-term partnerships with the project partners in Finland and Africa.  For example, the AFFEN project opens new opportunities for global education services, partnerships and networks. The project strives to take global responsibility and promotes sustainable development through online educational developments as well as education and research in the field of maternal and child health. In addition to the University of Turku, the project’s partners are the University of Tampere and the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, as well as higher medical education institutions in Namibia, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Building sustainable partnerships is also important for Maendeleo project.

“With seed-funding, over the next year and a half, we intend to create longer-term cooperation between universities in the field of research, education and innovation. We aim at building a sustainable partnership with the participating universities, establish collaboration between different disciplines within the universities, and learn the co-creation of health devices in different environments,” explains Sanna Salanterä.

In addition to the University of Turku, the Maendeleo project partners include Aalto University and the University of Tampere, as well as Moi University in Kenya and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.