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Improving Global Maternal Care and Infant Outcomes

October 26, 2015

Pre-term birth is major public health issue, globally and locally. It drives our embarrassingly high rates of infant mortality in the United States and in Philadelphia. The mother’s health is directly related to the health of her baby. Healthy mothers are less likely to have a pre-term birth, a baby born before 37 or more weeks of pregnancy. Worldwide, the most prevalent causes are hypertension and infection. These are also the most prevalent causes of maternal mortality (mothers who die during the year after childbirth). 

“If the baby is born too early, they have a higher likelihood of neonatal brain injury, which is linked in some instances to cerebral palsy,” said Joan Bloch, PhD, associate professor. Bloch has made improving maternal care locally and globally her mission. “My mantra is collaboration across all borders to improve global and local maternal health,” she said. The issues that are partially responsible for driving up the rates of maternal and infant mortality, like high blood pressure and greater susceptibility to infection, are more common in marginalized populations living lives of poverty who are burdened with excessive stressors.

Bloch spent one week this summer on a medical mission in Haiti with LabakCare, a community-based organization that serves underserved communities locally and globally. With her Drexel faculty colleague, Omolabake Fadeyibi, MSN, who organized the interdisciplinary medical mission to Haiti, they saw over 400 patients in mobile clinics they ran in church-affiliated communities. The LabakCare team of two pharmacists, three nurses and a medical student partnered with Haitian doctors and nurses.

The decision to go to Haiti was based on the nation’s poverty, which is a difficult cycle to break due to the lack of available education, and its overall health. “The health of a nation is usually measured by several different health indicators – maternal and infant mortality are global health indicators that can portray the health of a nation. Every country around the world tracks their rate of infant death in the first year of life and the rate of maternal deaths after giving birth,” said Bloch. “Haiti has the worst health of all the countries in the Americas. And the infant mortality rate in Haiti, as you would expect, is really high. I’ve always been intrigued by Haiti – by what makes the health outcomes so poor.”

Bloch and the team provided medical screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems that could ultimately impact maternal and infant outcomes. The reception was warm. “I was stunned with how grateful the people of Haiti were once they heard we were coming to provide a medical mission. Hundreds of people came to the churches for care.”

Bloch also paid a visit to the nursing school in Petit Goave. It was lacking in resources with no computers or a library available to students. When Bloch asked how she could help she learned that they needed faculty to teach their faculty health assessment skills. 

“We know that among people with African heritage, hypertension is highly prevalent. So we expected and saw that there was high, high prevalence of hypertension in people over 45. We could help train the trainers – the nurses – in caring for their hypertension population,” said Bloch.