Twenty-year partnership with Benin supports culturally-sensitive care in Canada

International and Francophonie
Faculty of Medicine
Mois de la Francophonie

By Daniel Hubert

Gestionnaire principal, Affaires francophones | Senior Manager, Francophone Affairs, Faculté de médecine | Faculty of Medicine

The Affaires Francophones team of the Faculty of Medicine in Bénin
In 2003, the Francophone Affairs office of uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine established a partnership with the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Benin, which would transform the learning experience of a hundred or so francophone doctors and shape their personal and career paths.

Since then, every year, francophones studying or completing a residence at the Faculty of Medicine have travelled to Benin for a four to five week internship with a team made up of doctors and other Canadian health-care professionals. The first weeks of the internship take place in clinical settings in the greater Porto Novo-Cotonou capital region. The remaining week is spent in Kolli, a rural village northwest of the capital. Year in, year out, the uOttawa team — supported by a local team — offers basic care as well as workshops and learning opportunities for the region’s population.

A 2019 participant recalls waking up with hundreds of people waiting outside the clinic in Kolli. That’s when he fully understood how important this work was for the local population. Over the following week, the 14-strong group of Canadians provided care to more than 1,100 patients.

A member of the Francophone Affairs office of the Faculty of Medicine in Benin

Undeniable benefits for the next generation and the local population

Interns have an unparalleled medical, cultural and humanitarian experience from which they gain a great deal personally and professionally and which shapes their medical careers. They’re in a better position to offer care adapted to very diverse groups across Canada and, in particular, to Black people from French-speaking Africa. With strong francophone immigration throughout the country, it’s a good fit to ensure high-quality care.

Spending time in a completely different culture, being exposed to diseases and health challenges unique to sub-Saharan African francophones (in this case, Beninese) and understanding that the way to look at health and care can vary considerably from one culture to the next, one develops sensitivity and openness, which further empathy. Participants also improve their listening and communication skills, which are so important in patient-centred care. The bottom line is that this experience makes participants better doctors.

“The internship in Benin gave me a caring, cultural and medical experience, rewarding and unforgettable, that has influenced the doctor I’ll become.” Medical student, 2019 internship.

The internships aren’t only useful to our students (and, ultimately, Canadians). The Beninese side also benefits considerably — and therein lies the richness of these exchanges. Integration of our interns into Beninese teams opens the door to rich cultural, medical and personal interactions. As well, people in Kolli are very grateful for the basic care offered by the uOttawa team, along with the educational sessions organized with the community and the village school on various health-related topics.

Over the years, the partnership with Benin has expanded to include other in-country organizations, including the Institut régional de santé publique and the Plateforme du secteur sanitaire privé, dealing with the public and private health-care sectors. As a result of this expansion, the partners have been able to engage in knowledge exchange, participate in joint scholarly activities and carry out research. Recently, the Faculty of Medicine Francophone Affairs office developed training on prevention of communicable diseases in Benin, which was offered in person and online to nearly 150 Beninese participants and led to practical change in the field.

A member of the Francophone Affairs office of the Faculty of Medicine in Benin

University of Ottawa delegation visits Benin

A uOttawa team visited Benin this February to mark the 20th anniversary of this fruitful partnership, celebrate the positive that has come from it and discuss the future. The two parties enthusiastically agree on the rich value of the partnership and wish to strengthen it, in terms of student mobility as much as research and knowledge exchange.

The delegation also met with the rector of the Université d’Abomey-Calavi, the dean of the faculty of medicine and the director of the Institut régional de santé publique, as well as Benin’s minister of health and minister of higher education and scientific research. All the Beninese partners said they appreciated the partnership and quality of the exchanges between the two countries. They also appreciate the online training they can participate in and, in general, are very open to the idea of continuing this agreement, finding other means to increase student or professor mobility from Benin to Canada and developing other collaborative activities, such as short training sessions (for example, on point of care ultrasound, advanced cardiac life support, advanced trauma life support or newborn life support, or in other fields such as pharmacology, nutrition or biotechnology), to strengthen the partnership and make it more equitable and balanced. To expand it and mark its 20th anniversary, the two sides could also offer scholarships and bursaries.

During these meetings, as well, Dr. Lissa Bair and Dr. David Ponka of uOttawa’s Department of Family Medicine (Ponka is also director of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s Besrour Centre for Global Family Medicine) made a presentation to Benin’s health sector regulation authority, the ARS, on family medicine in Canada, the curriculum for this speciality and a typical week for a resident. Dr. Marie-Hélène Chomienne made a brief presentation on the evidence regarding solid primary health care and its impact on population health. As well, an internist and infectiologist from Madagascar, Dr. Lala Soavina Ramarozatovo, discussed her efforts to start a residency in family medicine at the Université d’Antananarivo. The ARS president’s conclusion was that competent, affordable care, adapted to populations’ needs (particularly in rural areas, where 60% of the people live) was needed.

Affaires Francophones of the Faculty of Medicine in Benin

The University of Ottawa and the Faculty of Medicine — key partners in the French-speaking world!

A member of the Francophone Affairs office of the Faculty of Medicine in Benin

Support the Benin Project

Support French-speaking soon-to-be doctors who travel to Benin, West Africa to further their training and acquire invaluable skills and competencies.

On behalf of the Canadian medical students and residents, and the people of Benin, we thank you for your generosity!