By Sarah Scott, Pepperdine University Student and CCIH Communications and Advocacy Intern
Why Maternal and Child Health Matters
“Infants, Children, and Women should not be allowed to die from preventable health crises and yet they do, every day,” says Heather Hill, Director of Communications and Marketing for CCIH member World Hope International. Indeed, women and children are dying at an alarming rate, and are especially vulnerable during pregnancy and early childhood.
With approximately 2.8 million pregnant women and infants dying each year of preventable causes, there is much work to be done to address the inequities leading to these deaths. World Hope International is committed to improving the lives of those most negatively affected by low income, poor educational systems, and economic and political turmoil. Oftentimes, women and children are those most impacted by these social determinants of health.
According to Heather Hill, World Hope International strives to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths by “providing infant, child, and maternal health support and services; collecting and analyzing data on why mortality rates are so high in the first place, and providing physiotherapy and emotional support for children and families with disabilities.” One of World Hope International’s key teachings in Sierra Leone is that when mothers and children are healthier, they are better able to work, learn, and grow, leading to healthier, more prosperous communities.
World Hope International is working to understand and prevent Maternal and Child deaths through their involvement in numerous programs. The organization is part of the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) program, a program that includes two other partners in Sierra Leone and seeks to understand the causes of death of children under the age of five. When the causes of death are identified, themes may be discovered which can lead to recognizing key issues that can then be addressed on both a local and national level.
According to World Hope’s Health Programs Specialist, Carrie Jo Cain, RN, the CHAMPS program is unique in that its aim is “to capture both perinatal and childhood causes of death from infectious and noninfectious etiologies.”
Data Is Key
World Hope International plays a vital role in the CHAMPS program which Carrie Jo Cain explains ultimately seeks to “establish a network of high-quality sites to collect robust, standardized data that can be shared across a range of partners and stakeholders to analyze and track the preventable causes of child mortality.” This data is crucial for developing policies and programs based on evidence, informing research priorities, and providing insight into needed medications and vaccines. Accurate data helps to inform the global health community of how to best address and reduce early childhood death and disability.
As a partner in the CHAMPS Program, World Hope International is responsible for the mortality surveillance. In that capacity, World Hopse has developed a system for timely notification of deaths, and their team manages informed consents, accompanies corpses to and from the lab for testing, performs the Verbal and Social Autopsies as well as the Clinical Abstracts, and then compiles and assess the data. From the extensive data collection completed thus far, quality of care issues, ongoing malaria and pneumonia concerns, and antimicrobial resistance are among the chief concerns identified by the World Hope CHAMPS team.
It is encouraging, however, to see that improvements have been made by the National Emergency Medical System in Sierra Leone to reduce the time it takes to reach the hospital once patients reach local health facilities. This is important for delivering care to pregnant women, as well as children in critical condition. According to Heather Hill, World Hope International has noted improved documentation at local health facilities thanks to greater awareness and skills development.
World Hope International’s role in CHAMPS is primarily focused on identifying causes of death, and this data is vital to inform those in positions of leadership to enact needed changes to reduce maternal and child deaths. These changes must come from those in leadership at both a community and national level in healthcare, political, and religious sectors.
Ukweli Test Strips
In addition to its involvement with the CHAMPS program, World Hope International is also involved with the distribution of Ukweli Test Strips in a partnership with Lehigh University. These strips are designed to help identify Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and diabetes in pregnant women. If left untreated, a UTI can spread to the kidneys and cause severe kidney damage, birth complications, and increase a mother’s vulnerability to HIV and other STIs. In Sierra Leone, in particular, there are extremely limited UTI and diabetes diagnostic services available locally, severely limiting the care available to mothers.
The Ukweli Test Strips are useful to mothers in Sierra Leone because they are affordable, specific to testing for UTIs and preeclampsia, and accessible to over 1,000 Community Health Workers. World Hope International’s role in the Ukweli Test Strip project is to train health staff including facility staff and Community Health Workers on how to use the Ukweli Test Strips, and provide the health workers with the test strips for use by their clients.
“Our mothers and children are absolutely key to society,” said Heather Hill. While there is still much work to be done to reduce maternal and child mortality around the world, World Hope International is doing its part to prioritize the health of mothers and children in Sierra Leone.
Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of World Hope International. The photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the exception of the final photo in the radio studio.
About the Author: Sarah Scott is studying Psychology at Pepperdine University. After graduating in the spring of 2021, she plans to pursue a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health.