Everett nurse joining relief effort in Tanzania

It’s a first for Dorothy Cooper, an Everett Clinic nurse practitioner about to leave for a year in Africa. And it’s a first for the Peace Corps, which held a White House ceremony Thursday to swear in 30 American doctors and nurses as it launched a new program.

Cooper, of Mukilteo, is in the inaugural group of Peace Corps Global Health Service Partnership volunteers.

They are scheduled to leave this weekend for one-year assignments in Tanzania, Malawi or Uganda. Cooper, 61, has a leave of absence from The Everett Clinic to spend the year in Tanzania.

The new partnership brings together the Peace Corps, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and a nonprofit organization called Seed Global Health. Volunteers, working with nurses and doctors in their host countries, will serve as teachers to help alleviate a critical shortage of medical professionals in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” said Cooper, who has worked nearly 35 years in nursing. “I’m in the evening of my career. I always wanted to give back to nursing in some way.”

Cooper specializes in women’s health — gynecology and mother-and-child care. She also taught nursing at the University of Washington for five years.

In Tanzania, she’ll work at the Bugando Medical Centre, a 900-bed teaching hospital in the country’s second-largest city, Mwanza. “I’ll be working with the educators out of that school of nursing,” Cooper said earlier this month before leaving for a two-week orientation in Washington, D.C.

“Medical teams have gone to these areas in the past to work in clinics. Now, they are going as educators,” Cooper said. “I’m not coming in with my grand ideas. I’ll be partnering with nurse educators there.”

According to Peace Corps statistics, sub-Saharan Africa carries 24 percent of the world’s disease burden, but has just 3 percent of the all health workers.

At the White House Thursday, Ambassador Eric Goosby, a physician and the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, said the volunteers “will help position partner countries to more effectively, efficiently and sustainably address some of their greatest health challenges, including HIV/AIDS.”

Part of the U.S. State Department, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator helps implement the federal government’s work with other countries to battle the disease.

Cooper is part of a diverse group. The volunteer nurses and doctors range in age from 26 to 70, according to Peace Corps press director Shira Kramer. Seven are former Peace Corps volunteers.

“This effort will help ensure that more well-trained doctors and nurses will be walking the wards and caring for patients in hospitals and clinics in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda for years to come,” Dr. Vanessa Kerry, CEO of Seed Global Health, said in a statement released Thursday. Her father is Secretary of State John Kerry. Her organization helps the Peace Corps select overseas teaching sites.

Cooper found out about the program last October, and within a month had applied. After two interviews, one by phone and the other via Skype, she learned she had been chosen in January. In Tanzania, she hopes to write a blog.

Her husband, semi-retired and in school, will stay here. “I’m hoping he will come visit. We have three grown boys, all through college,” she said.

Cooper had been looking for a change. “I had this feeling, ‘Should I just stay here forever and retire?’ Life is short,” she said. “The Everett Clinic has been very supportive. My patients are all excited.”

She said the Peace Corps will rent a house for several volunteers in Mwanza, which is on the south shore of Lake Victoria. It’s picturesque, but also a place plagued by AIDS.

In 2011, a survey by the Tanzania Commission for AIDS found that an estimated 1.6 million people there were infected with the virus.

Cooper believes education, particularly among women, is the best weapon against AIDS.

“We’re looking at ways to make inroads on that issue, educating the people of that country to teach their own people. It’s a new approach,” Cooper said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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