April 25, 2008

Case Western Reserve University School Of Medicine Professor Honored for Two Decades of Pediatric Work in Thailand


Ninety percent of the world's children are born in "less developed countries," according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. In these countries, malnutrition, as well as malaria and other infectious diseases, threaten children's chances of survival.

As part of an ongoing relationship with and commitment to international health, the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the Rainbow Center for International Health continue to provide their expertise in pediatric medicine through a program that also attracts top medical residents to Cleveland as well as sends them beyond American borders to participate in international pediatric residency programs.

Karen N. Olness, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, launched the Rainbow Center for Global Child Health (RCGCH) in 1987 and is recognized as a world leader in the fields of global child health, pediatric disaster relief and behavioral pediatrics. The RCGCH was the first center for international child health established in the nation. It provides a unique opportunity for pediatricians to learn about and experience the challenges of global child health and to make a positive difference, particularly for children born in underdeveloped countries. The first residents entered the international pediatric residency program in 1989.

Olness visited the Lao Medical School and Khon Kaen University (KKU) in Thailand from November 19 to December 21, 2007, to meet with faculty, students and administrators. While there, she accepted a KKU honorary degree from a Thai princess. Prior to the ceremony, Olness was trained on "proper behavior," including bowing and hand movements while accepting the degree from the princess.

"The process of accepting this degree involved sitting motionless for seven hours while 6,000 KKU graduates followed me," she said. "It was a wonderful evening. I enjoyed a celebration organized by KKU's 'alumni of Case Western Reserve.'" Alumni included former fellows, residents and medical students. One of the KKU medical students who participated in an elective course at Rainbow in March 2007 received the highly coveted gold medal from the King, meaning she is identified as the top medical student in Thailand.

"The pediatric and internal medicine training programs in Laos continue to go well," Olness said. "The success of this program continues to depend heavily on the volunteer efforts of KKU."

Olness and her husband, Hakon Torjesen, a clinical assistant professor of medicine and former director of the Center for International Health, established an ongoing collaboration with KKU during Olness' first year at the School of Medicine. In the early 1990s, she added a pediatric residency program at the National University of Laos. That program, which Olness says was "the first post-graduate training Laos ever had," was designed to educate Lao residents, but several Rainbow residents in the international health track have served clinical rotations there.

The RCGCH has been recognized and endorsed worldwide by major organizations, such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Doctors Without Borders and the International Pediatric Association. The center provides a model for other institutions that have recently developed interests in global child health and pediatric disaster management.

Posted by: Paula Baughn, April 25, 2008 12:16 PM | News Topics: Awards, Faculty, Research, international

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