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Minding the Gap

New programs target underserved populations worldwide

An estimated 99 percent of infant deaths worldwide occur among socially and economically disadvantaged populations. Nearly two–thirds of these deaths result from conditions that could be prevented by simple, low–cost, noninvasive treatments unavailable in poorer countries.

Tackling such health inequities is the mission of the Programs in Global Health and Social Change, launched last year by the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS. By marshalling the scholarly expertise of the School, its affiliated institutions, and nongovernmental organizations, these programs aim to demonstrate the level of innovation possible when enough skill and commitment are brought to bear on unmet burdens of disease in resource–poor settings.

“These programs integrate research, service, and training to build the empirical base to address complex problems in global health: what works, what’s effective, and what’s locally acceptable,” says Anne Becker ’90, the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine. “We’re placing particular emphasis on the clinical areas of greatest unmet need, including the chronically under–resourced areas of children’s health and mental health.”

The Program in Newborn Health and Social Change, developed in collaboration with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Global Health Equity and Partners In Health, provides one example.

“We’re starting with the recognition that all children, but especially newborns and infants, are particularly vulnerable,” says Sadath Sayeed, program director and HMS instructor in social medicine. “And we’re focusing our interventions on the health and well–being of a newborn’s greatest ally, his or her mother. This year, for instance, two of our Harvard–based physicians will begin interviewing women at a maternity clinic in Haiti’s Central Plateau, one of the poorest regions in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere. Through the interviews, the doctors hope to better understand the challenges these women face in obtaining health care and to gauge their interest in participating in a community–based empowerment approach.”

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