A new academic track that promotes the health of mothers and their babies and children is being launched by the Yale School of Public Health at the beginning of the new academic year this fall.
Three years in the making, the Maternal and Child Health Promotion Track (MCHP) will be available to all students enrolled in the Master of Public Health program.
The program takes a multidisciplinary approach to implementing evidence-based practices to improve maternal and child health (MCH) outcomes. Students will be trained on the importance and application of implementation science to MCH promotion. They will also be required to complete three courses and an internship or practicum to gain applied experience specific to this area.
“We are very excited about the fact that we have just gotten approval for our brand-new Maternal and Child Health Promotion Track, which, in many ways, is a response to popular demand from students and faculty members across departments,” said Professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Ph.D., M.S., director of the new track as well as YSPH’s Global Health Concentration and Office of Public Health Practice.
The track co-director, Donna Spiegelman, Sc.D., the director of the Center for Methods in Implementation and Prevention Science (CMIPS), is equally enthusiastic about the launch. “I am thrilled to have the MCHP program join our portfolio of activities,” she said in an email, “and I look forward to engaging students in innovative training programs and designing and implementing new projects to close the gap in maternal and child health around the world.”
It’s a sentiment shared by YPSH Dean Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D. “The track is good for mothers and children, good for the environment that nurtures families, good for social justice in the United States, good for addressing challenges in low- and middle-income nations, and fantastic for our students looking for this interdisciplinary training,” he said.
And that excitement has apparently been shared among M.P.H. students as well.
“Rafael had assured me that there was great interest among our students,” Spiegelman said, “and he turned out to be correct. We’ve barely begun to let current and future Yale M.P.H. students know about this track and already students are applying.”
The MCHP Track, Spiegelman said, came about through discussions with Pérez-Escamilla after he became one of CMIPS’ associate faculty. Pérez-Escamilla said it was time, and he explained why.
“First of all, we know it is very well established through hundreds, if not thousands, of studies that the first 1,000 days of life – that is gestation or pregnancy, plus the first two years of life – are a very critical window of opportunity for promoting infant growth and development,” he said. “Secondly, promoting optimal nutrition, health and care through the implementation of high-quality, evidence-based interventions during this time has the immense potential to improve short-term, medium-term and long-term infant and child health and development outcomes. And we know that these translate into healthier families, healthier societies and, at the end of the day, improved national development and improved environmental sustainability and planetary health. So really, the first 1,000 days of life, in many ways, are the foundation for the ability of nations and of the world to reach and meet the 2030 U.N. sustainable-development goals.”
Spiegelman provided one glaring example of the inequities the track plans to address.
“Maternal mortality is perhaps the world’s greatest health inequity, with deaths in childbirth around 100 times greater in some Sub-Saharan African countries than in Northern Europe,” she explained. “With rates so low among high-income countries, clearly maternal mortality is nearly fully preventable through interventions well known to us; these include the use of simple hygienic delivery practices, control of maternal hypertension through inexpensive generic medications, use of oxytocin to prevent excessive bleeding, and calcium supplementation in regions where dietary calcium intake is low. The problem is getting these low-cost and simple interventions adopted, contextually adapted and scaled-up.”
Pérez-Escamilla said the implementation framework emphasis that they’re giving to this new track is unique globally, “because we think that the science in the field of implementation has advanced a lot, and that we now have access to very powerful methods to understand not only how to deliver interventions on a large scale, but also how to do that with quality through innovative approaches.”
“So at the end of the day, a very important focus of this track is to bridge that gap between what happens during the process of translating the evidence from small-scale, evidence-based interventions into the implementation of very cost-effective, large-scale maternal child health-promotion programs that take equity and social justice considerations into account.”
The specific aim of the MCHP, Pérez-Escamilla said, “is actually to provide those choosing to do training in maternal and child health a systematic way that emphasizes the application of implementation science principles in delivering evidence-based interventions and programs. And we know that the earlier we start in life, the more can be done about preventing adverse outcomes and fostering health and human development in the long term.”
The three required courses are Implementation Science (EMD 533), Health of Women and Children (HPM 542) and Maternal-Child Public Health Nutrition (SBS 594). Students are also required to participate in a summer internship. In addition, there are nine recommended electives; any of which students can choose to take, if they would like, for more training in MCHP. The track is open to students from any of the six departments that M.P.H. students are affiliated with.
Amber Hromi-Fiedler, Ph.D., M.P.H., the track’s coordinator, said that if a thesis is required by the student’s department, “we strongly encourage that it be on a maternal child health promotion issue. For the internship, applied practice experience and thesis, if required, both Pérez-Escamilla and Spiegelman will help with guiding the particular promotion experience, too.”