JHPIEGO gets grant of $75 million

Hopkins affiliate to fight childbirth-related deaths

August 05, 2004|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,SUN STAFF

A Johns Hopkins-affiliated public health organization has received a $75 million federal grant to help reduce the number of childbirth-related deaths in developing countries.

JHPIEGO, a Fells Point-based nonprofit that focuses on the health of women and families, is to announce today a five-year award from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The money will be used primarily to train local nurses, doctors and midwives in developing nations in low-cost lifesaving techniques ranging from infection control to preventing postpartum hemorrhage.

Fewer than eight women die per 100,000 births in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In developing countries, the rate is much higher. Worldwide, more than 500,000 women die each year from childbirth-related ills.

"They're dying for reasons that are unnecessary, ... from things that people in the U.S. don't even have to consider," says Judith Robb-McCord, director of JHPIEGO's Maternal and Neonatal Health Program.

For the past six years, JHPIEGO has been working in 18 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Guatemala, Indonesia, Zambia, and Nepal, to solve these problems.

If a clinic lacks incubators - or electricity to operate them - JHPIEGO staff members teach women to cuddle their babies to their bare chests, a simple, effective, technique to help newborns maintain body temperature.

Clinics that lack an autoclave to sterilize surgical instruments can use bleach bought from the local market as an effective disinfectant. JHPIEGO staff members also remind health care workers to wash their hands.

"We're talking about the most simple things that people can be doing that they're not doing," says Patricia Gomez, a certified nurse midwife with JHPIEGO.

The new USAID grant, organization officials say, will allow the organization to expand lifesaving educational efforts to more nations and from clinics into the home.

Not all the problems facing women are medical. Another challenge is overcoming local customs and superstitions surrounding childbirth that can jeopardize a woman's health. In many developing nations, women give birth at home without the aid of a nurse or midwife.

With the grant, JHPIEGO can help solve such problems by working with village elders or local governments to establish an emergency transportation fund for pregnant women.

"Women go into labor in the middle of the night on the top of a mountain," says Mary Ellen Stanton, senior reproductive health advisor at USAID. "It's not easy to get them to skilled care."

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