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Mennonite professor researches tuberculosis in Russia

Wendy Woith

Assistant Professor of Nursing Wendy Woith is focusing her research on the international epidemic of tuberculosis (TB). TB has reached epidemic proportions in Russia, with the latest data showing 107 new cases per every 100,000 persons each year, or approximately 158,000 new cases in Russia yearly. That compares with 13,779 new cases in the U.S. Approximately 10 percent of infected persons in Russia will develop active TB.

Russia ranks ninth among the 22 countries with the highest incidence of TB. Woith said the deterioration of the healthcare system following the breakup of the USSR, high levels of poverty, congregate living and adverse prison conditions are significant contributing factors for the infectious disease. Woith said the statistics indicate a great need for family, patient and community education about TB.

Woith has a longtime interest in the spread of infectious diseases in other countries. She conducted research in Russia regarding the delay in seeking treatment and adherence to TB medication therapy for her doctoral degree.

Woith’s newest study was conducted last fall in Vladimir, where she worked with the Joint Center for Central Research TB Institute of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and Vladimir Oblast TB Dispensary, supported by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Woith and her research assistants, faculty from the nursing program at the Medical College in Vladimir, examined healthcare workers’ knowledge of TB and infection control. She said this research was needed because Russian healthcare providers in TB facilities have a 10-20 times greater risk of developing TB than their counterparts in other settings. Woith said the risk is heightened by healthcare workers not following proper infection control protocols in clinic and hospital TB settings.

Focus groups were conducted with physicians, nurses, lab workers and others, with the study taking a broader community participatory approach, guided by a research project team of healthcare workers. She hopes to duplicate the study in a second region of Russia. Woith and Grigory Volchenkov, chief physician of the TB program for the Vladimir region, will use the research results to develop and implement a training program for healthcare workers in 27 Russian regions. The training will provide a second research opportunity as Woith will measure changes in knowledge and procedure after the training administration.

Woith was part of the Bloomington-Normal/Vladimir Sister Cities program, which brought nurses from Vladimir to Bloomington-Normal, sparking her interest in nursing in other countries. She has visited Russia eight times, and partially credited her interest in obtaining her doctorate in nursing to the fact that Russians would afford her more respect with an advanced degree. She said the country does not have a high regard for nurses, and her desire to continue working internationally was an added incentive to earn her Ph.D.

As part of Mennonite’s transcultural nursing initiative,Woith established a faculty and student exchange program with the Medical College in Vladimir. The first Vladimir participants visited Mennonite in fall of 2007, a second group visited in October and the Mennonite contingent hopes to travel to Russia this spring. The participants attend classes and visit clinical settings with the host country students and faculty as well as tour healthcare settings and observe advanced practice nurses.

Woith’s research has been published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies and Advances in Nursing Science, and she was named an Illinois Board of Higher Education Nurse Educator Fellow.

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