Law students Jonathan Nagel 3L and Ashley LaRiccia 3L 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. The students were joined for several weeks of their stay by UM Carey Law Professor Peter Danchin and Law & Health Care Program Managing Director Virginia Rowthorn who helped organize the project as part of an interprofessional faculty team.
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 professional schools on the UM Baltimore 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.
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.
Danchin, who is new to the Malawi project, is the Director of the International and Comparative Law Program at UM Carey Law. From 2000-2006, he was lecturer and director of the human rights program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and from 1997-2000 taught in a research and training program conducted by the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University on Religion, Human Rights and Religious Freedom. He served as law clerk to Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In addition to the Malawi project, Danchin is currently engaged in a joint research project on the “Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices” funded by the Henry R. Luce Foundation of New York which examines the multiple histories and genealogies of religious freedom.
Danchin and Rowthorn, who traveled to Malawi with the first group in 2010, 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.
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, that “[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.”
First Photo: Jonathan and Ashley and other UMB practice group students with nurses from Ngabu, Malawi.
Second Photo: Community Health Provider Mzonda and Ashley LaRiccia 3L in Chikhwawa, Malawi