Over the past two years, Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH) partners have collaborated on the development and implementation of programs in four key areas: research focused on surveillance of birth defects, preterm birth and other adverse outcomes of pregnancy; professional training to improve diagnosis and care; community education to raise awareness about birth defects and preterm birth and the steps that couples can take to reduce their risk; and youth activities to engage students and young health professionals in community education. By working together, the principal investigators from each GNMIH site have shared their knowledge, expertise and experience in ways that have contributed to the strengthening of the interventions conducted and to the forging of mutually supportive and sustained professional ties.
Research highlights to date:
Lessons learned -The greatest challenge to implementing harmonized methods of data collection on birth defects and preterm birth across the GNMIH has been the difficulty of retrospectively adjusting existing surveillance systems and the tools used to collect data. Current efforts have focused instead on the prospective introduction of harmonized methods and means for collecting data on new outcomes such as preterm birth. Experience has shown that the integration of programs across the GNMIH is more rapidly and effectively achieved if partners work together on common goals and objectives from the earliest stages of program development through the conduct and evaluation of interventions, rather than trying to fit new programs within existing systems.
Professional training highlights to date:
Lessons learned - There is a lack of high-quality training available to primary care providers in the field of medical genetics and also a generalized lack of information on the care of preterm babies in middle-income countries.
Community education highlights to date:
Lessons learned - As with professional education, each GNMIH site developed educational materials to meet the specific needs of its target populations. Partners have identified the importance of community education as an essential adjunct to the training of health care providers to reduce the risk of mortality and disability from birth defects and preterm birth in their middle-income countries.
Youth activity highlights to date:
Lessons learned - Through exposure to March of Dimes Team Youth activities in the United States, our partners have recognized that their young people, including students and recently graduated young medical professionals, are a valuable resource for carrying out public education. The numbers of youth and communities reached in the 2 years of GNMIH youth activities demonstrate the power of youth to raise public awareness of important community health issues.
In sum, the GNMIH after 2 years is showing the considerable potential of global networks to improve birth outcomes through collaborative programs in the areas of research, professional training, community education and youth activities. The GNMIH has shown that the key to effective partnership and harmonization of effort is communication and collaboration from the earliest stages of proposal development through the conduct and evaluation of network projects. The GNMIH experience demonstrates that the best results come when strategies and outcomes are shared, and when implementation - including development of educational materials, surveillance tools, and identification of target populations - is carried out by each project leader according to the needs and resources of his or her country.
See also: Management of Birth defects and Haemoglobin Disorders (PDF, 354kb), The March of Dimes Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (PDF, 258kb)