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Saving Babies Across an Ocean

zambia article-smallEvery other year, UAB hosts students from across the globe as part of the Center for International Nursing and Health Care Leadership and Management Program. Last year, this program led to a connection between two neonatal intensive care units that are an ocean apart: UAB’s RNICU and the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) NICU in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Cross-Ocean Connection
Bupe Mwamba, a nurse from Lusaka, attended the program and was introduced to the UAB RNICU staff. RNICU Nurse Manager Unit Donna Purvis said she and her staff immediately connected with Bupe, and the feeling was mutual.

“She was so surprised and fell in love with our unit and all the resources that we have, and we kind of took off from there,” said Purvis.

RNICU Nurse Ashley Costa connected even further with Bupe when it was discovered she would be in Lusaka on an upcoming medical mission trip. The two were able to meet in Zambia only weeks later.

A Humbling Experience
Costa’s visit was enlightening, and revealed many differences between American NICUs and the one she visited in Zambia. “It was a very humbling experience, and you could see the need for education,” said Costa. “So many people just wanted to be taught how to do things. It’s at your fingertips here, but there is a hunger there for education. Bupe is in the process of getting her nurse/midwife degree. She is very educated, and a huge asset to their hospital.”

Costa noted other differences, including a higher baby-to-nurse ratio and a lack of the high tech equipment one would find at UAB, such as ventilators, essential for treating preterm babies.

A Heart-Felt Adoption
Upon her return, Costa worked with Purvis and approached their unit about adopting Bupe’s NICU as a community project. They began planning a bake sale to raise funds with the RNICU and Continuing Care Nursery (CCN).

“It was neat, because all of the nurses felt like they could have their own part, too,” said Costa. “You just saw our whole unit come together and everyone did their own part.”

Staff members and nurses joined together to create bags to send to the UTH NICU with supplies they felt the nurses would need. They included hats and socks for the babies to help with thermo-regularity, which is an issue they are constantly fighting. They sent six boxes that were four feet tall each.

“We don’t realize how blessed we are here, and we thought it would be neat to make a connection with them,” said Costa.

An Educational Donation
In February, UAB’s RNICU joined forces with the Nursing School’s Global Honors Program to sell t-shirts to continue to raise funds for UTH NICU. More than $1,000 was raised and used to purchase a professional education CD for the nurses of UTH.

UAB Assistant Dean for International Affairs Lynda Wilson, RN, PhD, FAAN, delivered the CD to Lusaka during spring break and secured copyright permission to download the content to the University of Zambia School of Medicine library and Lusaka School of Nursing library servers.

“It made the initiative of the [NICU] nurses go farther than just providing the education for the nurses in the unit,” said Wilson, who is also deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Center on International Nursing. “It will now be available to students at both schools.”

An Ongoing Effort
In UAB’s waiting areas, there are comfortable lounges and for parents to room in at the bedside and sleep. The unit has a private room for every family, and it is the largest private NICU in the nation. Wilson said that is very different in Zambia. Parents are camped out on the grounds of the hospital outside waiting for visitation hours and to be able to feed their children.

“It is low income, low resource, and low technology,” said Wilson.

Costa and Purvis are currently working with their unit and UAB to create another fundraiser this summer to continue their efforts with UTH’s NICU.

“The nurses in Zambia are taking care of the same patient population that we are, but they are doing a lot of work with a lot less than we have, and hopefully we can help them improve their outcomes,” said Costa.

You Can Help
If you would like more information on the UTH NICU program, or to purchase a t-shirt, please contact Ashley Costa at


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