Researchers target infant survival in Cambodia

September 12, 2013 12:00 PM

Deidre Boling

Dr. Richard Oberhelman and Alessandra Bazzano of Tulane University will work with Dr. Var Chivorn of the National Institute of Public Health for the Kingdom of Cambodia to implement a novel program to reduce newborn mortality in Cambodia as part of a Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Health Program.

Infant health in Cambodia

Thanks to a PEER Health Grant, Tulane University researchers and the Kingdom of Cambodia will study a novel approach to improve infection control for newborns in rural Cambodia. (Photo from the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia)

Oberhelman is professor and chair and Bazzano is an assistant professor in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

The PEER Health grant, which will provide nearly $500,000 over three years, is a combined effort of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and USAID, and is designed to improve child health in target countries with poor child health indicators.

Per the structure of the grant, Chivorn will serve as the principal investigator for the project. Dr. Oberhelman is the NIH-supported program mentor and Bazzano, who studies maternal and newborn care practices, will lead the activities with Chivorn.

Cambodia has managed to significantly reduce maternal mortality, says Bazzano, with rates almost half of what they once were, but newborn mortality has remained stubbornly high. Their study aims to improve infection control in health centers in rural areas and also improve communication between midwives and village health support group volunteers.

“The first week in the infant’s life is very important,” says Bazzano, “and often the parents don’t have the resources and support to get a baby back to the hospital when an infection sets in.” Training of existing staff at healthcare centers will target communication with the village health volunteers who can monitor and refer newborns during those all-important first weeks of life.

Seventeen grants were awarded from among 76 applications. Robert Garry, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Tulane School of Medicine, also received a grant to study Lassa fever pathobiology in children and pregnancy.

The project is a return to Cambodia for Bazzano, who first worked in the Southeast Asian country in 1999 when she traveled there to complete her practicum for her master of public health degree at Tulane. She spent an additional four years there and has extensive contacts throughout the country.

Dee Boling is director of communications for the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

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