A supporter of several medical research and advocacy organizations, Ryan Kavanaugh provides substantial support to the March of Dimes, which undertakes a number of initiatives to prevent premature births around the world. Since its inception, the March of Dimes has made major strides both in the United States and abroad through its focused programming, such as the Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH). This initiative focuses on the needs of mothers and babies in developing countries and identifies key projects for preventing preterm births and birth defects that can lead to disability or mortality. The program started with a simple but effective structure for better communication and collaboration between medical professionals that has grown more complex over the years.
GNMIH continues to refine its activities to comprise health research findings and programming assessments. Today, its programs include physician training, national risk surveillance, media outreach, community education, and prenatal health. In addition, the organization works closely with health professionals to encourage participation in volunteer public health activities and collaboration with international counterparts. Following is a look at some of GNMIH’s key accomplishments in recent years.
Successes in Community Education Programs
In China, GNMIH partners have undertaken a series of courses for both women and men who have reached reproductive age to teach them about the dangers of premature birth and increase understanding of those behaviors that lead to birth defects. This initiative is tied to a larger campaign that aims to raise public awareness about the simple steps that couples can take to minimize their risk.
Major strides have also been made in the Philippines, where GNMIH partners have created and distributed educational materials discussing the warning signs of preterm birth and have encouraged women to seek professional medical attention should they experience any of them. The materials are available at prenatal clinics and rural health centers. In addition, community centers and hospitals that teach courses for expectant mothers have handed out the material.
In Brazil, a GNMIH team focused on community-level awareness by developing a pamphlet discussing environmental risk factors for pregnancy, including alcohol use and exposure to certain drugs linked to birth defects. The community-based initiative was found to be an essential complement to improved health care provider training.
Steps Forward in Professional Training
Primary care providers in the Philippines were found to have gaps in their understanding of how to prevent birth defects and how to care for affected newborns and children. In order to address this issue, a training program was created to explore issues related to preterm birth and encourage the referral of newborns with disorders to qualified professionals. Primary care providers in countries around the world often do not have access to quality training in genetics, which can result in birth-related issues that could otherwise have been avoided. A pilot program for teaching medical genetics throughout Latin America was also launched in Brazil.
In Lebanon, nurses and physicians received a manual developed by GNMIH partners that covers the identification and diagnosis of newborns with birth defects. The manual also included a guide for referring these newborns to the appropriate specialists. Research has shown that middle-income countries often overlook training for the care of preterm children.
Mobilizing Youth Volunteers to Make a Difference
In the Philippines and China, GNMIH mobilized teams of young volunteers to provide health education in targeted communities via public awareness campaigns. These volunteers are responsible for creating and distributing posters with key information and other health promotion materials. In addition, the volunteers are charged with delivering talks in a variety of forums, including symposia that they organize. Youth volunteers have proven instrumental in making lasting changes in the United States and have already reached a number of communities abroad in a relatively short period of time. These volunteers will likely become an even more important tool for change in the coming years.
Groundbreaking Research to Improve Global Outcomes
GNMIH has fueled a number of large-scale research projects across the globe to collect data necessary for improving outcomes for both women and their children. In China, 52 Maternal and Child Health Hospitals in 13 provinces are collecting data on the rates of preterm birth and the risk factors associated with these births.
In the Philippines, the National Birth Defects Surveillance Project, under GNMIH guidance, has collected data on more than 2,000 newborns at 82 health facilities across the country.
In Lebanon, a complete set of core indicators was developed to help keep track of preterm births and birth defects in the future. These indicators have been added to the National Collaborative Perinatal Neonatal Network to improve data collection moving forward. Adjusting tools and surveillance systems retrospectively can prove daunting, so GNMIH professionals focus more on creating harmonized methods that blend seamlessly with existing programs.
Presently, GNMIH is working on creating common goals and objectives that can be implemented in studies across the organization’s network as quickly as possible to facilitate better international comparisons and a greater understanding of the cultural components of premature births. The harmonization of these methods also helps to track which programs have the greatest impact on outcomes.