Third-year law students Jonathan Nagel and Ashley LaRiccia, UM Carey Law Professor Peter Danchin, and Law & Health Care Program Managing Director Virginia Rowthorn spent six weeks this summer in Malawi as part of a University of Maryland Global Health Interprofessional Council (GHIC) project that studied maternal morbidity and mortality in a rural district in the Southern region of Malawi. Reducing maternal mortality is the fourth of eight Millennium Development Goals endorsed by the United Nations in the year 2000. The goals are designed to be met by 2015 and, to this end, Malawi's recently inaugurated President Joyce Banda has placed a strong emphasis on improving maternal health throughout Malawi.
Jonathan and Ashley were part of an interprofessional twelve-student team that included two students from each of the other graduate schools of campus (which include the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, Dentistry, and Pharmacy). The team was joined by two law students from Malawi's Chancellor College of Law who worked and lived with the students for part of the project. Professor Danchin and Managing Director Rowthorn helped organize the project and each spent 10 days on the ground in Malawi as part of an interprofessional faculty contingent that supported students throughout the process. Danchin and Rowthorn also collaborated with Chikosa Banda, a Lecturer at Chancellor College of Law, to plan the project. Professor Banda met with the student group early in the summer to discuss human rights law in Malawi and, later, Professor Danchin presented a talk entitled "New Directions in Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights" to the Dean and faculty members at the Malawian law school.
The students used the World Health Organization's Safe Motherhood Needs Assessment to evaluate interventions relating to safe motherhood which include: family planning; prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV; comprehensive abortion care; and antenatal and postpartum care. The survey was conducted in Chikhwawa -- a primarily rural district in which health care is provided through 11 health centers and two hospitals. At this time, health care in Chikhwawa is provided by mid-level health care providers as there are no physicians practicing in the district. The students surveyed health care providers in both hospitals and 10 of the 11 health centers. The students' final report will be sent to key stakeholders in maternal health in Malawi.
This was the third GHIC summer project in Malawi. The annual project is designed to provide graduate school students with the opportunity to conduct research on pressing global health issues outside of the confines of their individual professional programs. The dual research and policy focus of the project allows students to move beyond the clinical skills of their professional training to work together to understand the interrelated factors that result in global and public health concerns such as high maternal mortality rates.
As a concluding component of this project, the student members of the research team reflected on the interprofessional nature of the research project from four different perspectives: the value of an interprofessional approach to a complex global health problem; the value of the project to illuminate both the micro (profession-based) and macro (interprofessional) responses necessary to address a complex global health problem; the role of the project in promoting understanding and respect for other disciplines; and the impact of the project on the students' individual growth in their own profession. Jonathan's concluding comment reflected what most students learned from the project -- "[f]orming bonds among professions expands everyone's views and understandings, and supports future work among disciplines. This is important because in large scale problems like maternal morbidity and mortality, there is never one simple answer."
Photo: 3L Ashley LaRiccia and Mr. Mzonda visit a clinic in Chikhwawa, Malawi.