Global health applied practice experience builds maternal health policies
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Since 2000, the maternal mortality ratio has dropped by about 40 percent worldwide, but 94 percent of all maternal deaths continue to occur in low and lower middle-income countries (LMICs). For SPH master’s candidate Tcherna Halpern, this continuing challenge represented a persistent gap in global health policies.
Unable to travel globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halpern completed her global health applied practice experience, part of her global health concentration, working with members of the policy committee of with the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA), identifying areas where the Federation should be putting more energy into policy promotion.
“Everyone wants to go straight to COVID and climate change,” Halpern said. “It’s what is most important right now, but I wanted to examine the global burden of disease, which diseases are prioritized and which should have more robust policies surrounding them.”
With guidance from Peter Orris, MD, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and Alyson Lofthouse, senior associate director of SPH’s Global Health Program, both members of the WFPHA policy committee, Halpern dove deep into the health policies of health associations in LMICs. She ran into a number of roadblocks – sites with no English language translation, policies unavailable, geo-blocked sites and conducting a global research project over Zoom.
Still, the exposure to global health policies built experience for her in navigating global policy landscapes. Halpern notes how health associations in LMICs often stated their own priorities that might be disparate from neighboring nations. Likewise, she notes the challenge in crafting a single set of policies that can be applied across national boundaries.
In the end, her review found that LMICs often had established policies on maternal and child health, but the Federation was lacking policies in this area. To develop the Federation’s new policies, she conducted an in-depth literature review and data collection. The policy was based upon failure from the Millennium Developments Goals and the current work being done for the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. Where other countries had progressed immensely in maternal mortality, there was a definite gap in low-income countries in improving avoidable deaths.
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There was no justification for why maternal deaths were still occurring at such a high rate despite the efforts from the UN. I felt this would be an important topic to add to in an attempt to help people who are often out of the scope of health policy.”Global Health Concentration Candidate|
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The WFPHA agreed with a unanimous vote of it general assembly, representing its 130 national association members, incorporating Halpern’s proposal into their list of policies.
As she looks forward to finishing her MPH in Health Policy and Administration degree in Spring 2022, Halpern is considering a career path that will keep her active in policy circles in LMICs.
“I learned a lot about how important understanding and cultural competence is in these situations, to learn how to look into what a country needs and try to be helpful without overstepping,” Halpern said.
Halpern is a recipient of the Paul Brandt-Rauf Scholarship in Global Health.