A new study by researchers in the University of Iowa College of Public Health examines the complex relationships between water and sanitation access and social conditions on birth outcomes among women in India.
Globally, preterm birth (PTB) and low infant birth weight (LBW) are leading causes of maternal and child illnesses and death. In low-income countries, the challenges women face to meet their basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) needs may be a major contributor to adverse health outcomes.
“Many homes in low-income countries have no private drinking water source. Women and girls are tasked with fetching water from outside the home, which can be physically stressful,” says Kelly Baker, assistant professor of occupational and environmental health, who co-authored the study. “In addition, homes often lack private toilet facilities, meaning women must use shared or public latrines or manage their sanitation needs in open spaces.”
The lack of water and sanitation in the home forces women to navigate challenging, and sometimes personally threatening, social and environmental public conditions to collect water and to find a safe, private place to defecate, bathe, or manage menstruation, leading to psychosocial stress.
“Determining whether WASH-related stress—both physical and psychosocial—affects birth outcomes for women in low- and middle-income countries is critical for understanding whether the global prevalence of preterm birth and low infant birth weight could be reduced by improving the social and environmental conditions in which pregnant women seek clean water and proper sanitation,” says study co-author William Story, assistant professor of community and behavioral health.
For the study, which was published online Oct. 8, 2018, in PLOS ONE, the researchers used data from the India Human Development Survey . The survey asked women about their drinking water source, walking time to that source, time spent fetching water, sanitation (toilet) access, harassment of women and girls, local crime, whether community problems are solved collectively or individually, the amount of conflict within the community, as well as education, household wealth, and other characteristics.
The researchers examined the effect of pre-birth WASH and social conditions on self-reported PTB status and LBW status for 7,926 women who gave birth between 2004/2005 and 2011/2012. Of these women, 14.9 percent experienced premature birth and 15.5 percent delivered a low birth weight baby.
The study found that increased time daily spent fetching household water increased women’s risk of delivering a low birth weight baby. Open defecation and using a shared latrine within a woman’s building or compound were also associated with higher odds of low birth weight and preterm birth, respectively, compared to having a private household toilet.
Harassment of women and girls in the community also was associated with both low birth weight and preterm birth. The data also showed a possible association of local crime with low birth weight.
“This study contributes to the limited evidence related to environmental causes of PTB and LBW by demonstrating that lack of household WASH infrastructure and social factors, like crime and harassment of women and girls, are risk factors for adverse birth outcomes in women in low- and middle-income countries,” the researchers write. “Additionally, the findings suggest that gender norms that sanction harassment of women and girls and place the burden of household water fetching on women are key determinants of vulnerability to PTB and LBW among Indian women.”
Interventions that reduce domestic responsibilities related to water and sanitation and that change social norms related to gender-based harassment may reduce rates of PTB and LBW in India, the authors note.
Additional contributors to the study include Evan Walser-Kuntz and Bridget Zimmerman from the UI Department of Biostatistics. The paper is available online at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205345.
The study was funded by a pilot grant from the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Funding for the original IHDS study was provided to the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, by the National Institutes of Health.
A new study published in the Journal of Perinatology, suggests that blood tests can be used to predict the risk of preterm births among pregnant women with and without preeclampsia.
The researchers found that screening for specific biomarkers along with understanding certain demographic information about the patient could identify the risk of most of the women in the study during their second trimester of pregnancy.
Senior author Kelli Ryckman, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, says that knowing which women are in the high risk group would allow providers to suggest additional monitoring and even offer an opportunity for intervention.
“For example, our test identified about 95 percent of women who had a preterm birth with preeclampsia before 32 weeks,” Ryckman says. “These women could be offered low-dose aspirin as a way to help lower their risk for preeclampsia.”
The test, developed and studied in 400 women during their second trimester, screened for 25 biomarkers or substances in the blood that were signs of inflammation and immune system activation, as well as certain protein levels, indicative of a possible preterm birth risk.
While the results of the study are encouraging, Ryckman notes that the test is still in very early stages of development, and more research is needed to determine its accuracy and safety.
Additional authors of the study are Laura L. Jelliffe-Pawlowski, Larry Rand, and Mary E. Norton, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine; Bruce Bedell and Jeffrey C. Murray, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine; Rebecca J. Baer and Scott P. Oltman, University of California San Diego; and Gary M. Shaw and David K. Stevenson, Stanford University School of Medicine.
Funding for the study was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NIH/NHLBI, the March of Dimes Prematurity Center at Stanford University School of Medicine, the Stanford Child Health Research Institute at Stanford University School of Medicine, the Stanford Clinical and Translational Science Award CTSA to Spectrum, the March of Dimes Prematurity Center—Ohio Collaborative, March of Dimes, and the California Preterm Birth Initiative at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital.
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A creative partnership model brings teams of experts together to solve complex public health problems.
“We have to abandon the conceit that isolated personal actions are going to solve this crisis,” former Vice President Al Gore has said of climate change. Whether a problem is as monumental as global warming, or more emerging, such as the relatively sudden worldwide use of an insecticide whose effects are not fully understood, solutions will rarely arise from a single person or even a single laboratory. Rather, such difficult problems necessitate collaborations that span disciplines and organizations, challenge accepted methods, and even push established lexicons to shift.
This is the founding principle behind the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy’s collaboratory initiative. Two inaugural collaboratory teams just completed their first year of work via this new funding source available to teams anchored in the College of Public Health but extending beyond it. One team is focused on better understanding neonicotinoids, a relatively new class of insecticides. The other team is invested in creating data that can be leveraged by providers and public health professionals to improve the health outcomes of children born in Iowa.
THE TEAMS INCLUDE research scientists, physicians, public policy experts, epidemiologists, engineers, geologists, chemists, and others. This rich array of expertise and the fertile network of knowledge and contacts that members bring with them is what makes this model so ripe with possibility.
Vickie Miene, interim director of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP), says that in addition to spanning a spectrum of disciplines, the new program is intended to encourage team-building strategies. It is one part of the burgeoning institute’s work, which is focused on fostering new relationships within and outside of the University of Iowa.
Funded by a gift from Dale and Linda Baker and supplemented by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the collaboratory program is intended to create teams that are ready to respond rapidly to opportunities.
“In today’s funding world, you get maybe 60 days to respond to a call for a new grant or contract, and most of the time they’re looking for existing partnerships that are multidisciplinary,” says Miene.
Ideally, a successful collaboratory will lead to a sustainable research initiative that bolsters and builds upon the college’s three areas of excellence: rural health, comparative effectiveness research, and community engagement. Finding the kinds of complex topics that call for this approach isn’t difficult, but locating faculty leaders who appreciate the necessity and utility in an approach that can take many people out of their comfort zones is another matter. Miene is impressed by the success of the initial two collaboratories, both in the depth of their work and in their willingness to embrace the team-building aspects of the process.
“People have to be willing to get their hands dirty in learning collaboration,” says Miene. “They are the content experts, and our role at IIPHRP is to support them in their efforts.” To do so, the institute helps the teams to develop memorandums of understanding, create a team process, and make a plan for disseminating their work.
According to Miene, the institute could not have chosen better directors for the inaugural collaboratories. CPH Professors Kelli Ryckman and R. William Field, she says, “have been all in and completely willing to learn.”
FIELD LEADS THE TEAM “Human Exposure and Heath Risks from Neonicotinoid Insecticides,” which grew out of his graduate student Darrin Thompson’s strong interest in the occurrence and potential health effects of these emerging chemicals as a dissertation topic.
“Neonicotinoids have only been around for about 20 years,” explains Thompson, “but they are already the most widely used class of insecticides in the world.”
Although they were developed as a safer alternative to other insecticides, there is already substantive evidence that neonicotinoids are playing a role in the decline of honey bee populations. Beyond initial laboratory tests done by the manufacturers, there has been little research on human health effects of this insecticide, which is used by farmers, gardeners, and the timber industry, among others. According to Thompson, laboratory tests simply cannot take into account the myriad of variables that exist when these chemicals interact with environmental factors and other chemicals.
Field says the topic is especially pertinent to the state “since neonicotinoids are used as a seed coating for the majority of corn and soybean seeds in Iowa.” In the long-term, the collaboratory intends to study the potential health risk, if any, posed by chronic exposure to low concentrations. In the shorter term, the central research is that of Thompson’s dissertation, which includes measuring the levels in groundwater and in the urine of people who apply the pesticide. The team now comprises more than 15 active members and includes researchers from the UI College of Engineering, the Iowa Geological and Water Survey, the State Hygienic Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, and the National Cancer Institute. The collaboratory is ready to publish a paper that will open a whole new portfolio of research, Miene says.
Describing one of their meetings, Miene adds, “I was in awe of the expertise around the table. There were geologists, engineers, epidemiologists, and a major scientist calling in from California. It’s really impressive how they are thinking about sustainability and the intricacies of the conversation.”
Field agrees. “It sort of reminds me—in a real sense rather than an imaginary one—of The Field of Dreams: If you start the collaborative, researchers with a shared interest and vision will come, and with each addition, the collaborative expertise expands.”
RYCKMAN HAS HAD A similar experience as her team, the Iowa Perinatal Health Research Collaborative, has grown since its inception. Ryckman’s biggest challenge wasn’t finding researchers, but rather creating a team committed to sharing research. “There has had to be some breaking down of barriers of what is mine and what is ours,” says Ryckman, a genetic epidemiologist.
“This first year has really been about creating shared resources and a similar language,” she observes. “There were already many projects out there related to this topic, but instead of us each doing our own siloed thing, we were challenged to consider if we could create some synergy to share and collect data. Is there a way to connect initiatives so that we can all benefit?”
The perinatal collaboratory has 12 regular members, including UI researchers from obstetrics and gynecology, neonatology, and pediatric neurodevelopment; as well as partners from the Iowa March of Dimes, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the State Hygienic Laboratory.
Miene says that how to do research better is a key part of Ryckman’s project: “They are building and testing a database that will allow them to answer a lot of questions about outcomes of children born in Iowa, particularly those born preterm or low birth weight. They are gaining crucial understanding of how kids born under these circumstances are doing in multiple ways.”
It’s such an important issue, Miene adds, that the team has already received generous gifts from donors Dale and Linda Baker and Dr. Roger Williamson to help continue its work.
Traditionally, research comes with a strong sense of turf since success leads to future funding. There is understandable concern for who gets credit and what department or unit “owns” the grant funding around a project. As she’s created and nurtured her team, Ryckman simply wasn’t accepting that model.
As though summing up the modus operandi of the collaboratory and why the College of Public Health initiated it, Ryckman says, “Everything I have is ours—that’s my stance, and you have to give me the same buy-in. That’s the difference between simply collaborating versus really creating something beneficial to the broader research community and to the public.”
This story originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Insight magazine.
Maternal Mental Health Disparities and Patient Engagement in Research
Karen Tabb Dina, PhD
University of Illinois School of Social Work
Thursday, April 12
Abstract: Women’s mental health during the perinatal period is critically important. Currently there are no best practices for screening for depression and addressing mental health needs in public health clinics. Clinic staff are often responsible for performing depression screening, however, few studies examine staff perceptions on feasibility and acceptability of using perinatal screening for mood disorders in ethnically diverse public health clinics. We conducted focus group interviews with public health staff (n=25) to learn how a multidisciplinary clinical staff addresses mental health in their clinic. Most participants identified multiple barriers to universal depression screening in a public health clinic, but at the same time found value in the practice of screening low-income women for depression. The findings from the focus group study established the foundation for a university-community partnership to improve maternal health outcomes at the county level in Illinois. The partnership has grown into a local initiative and is now in the early stages of developing a patient centered outcomes research community.
Sponsored by the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy and the Iowa Perinatal Health Research Collaborative
Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the College of Public Health in advance at 319-384-1500.
A University of Iowa research paper on intimate partner violence during pregnancy and the risk for adverse infant outcomes has been awarded the David Liu Prize by the Royal Academy of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
The paper appeared in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) in 2016.
Researchers analyzed 50 studies into the effects of domestic violence by a partner or ex-partner on risk of preterm birth, low birth weight (less than 2500g) and small-for-gestational-age babies. The combined results evaluated more than 5 million women from 17 countries, 15,000 of whom had experienced domestic violence.
Overall, the results found that domestic violence doubled the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. This risk further increased for women who experienced two or more types of domestic violence during their pregnancy.
The research team included Audrey Saftlas, professor of epidemiology; Brittney Donovan, doctoral student in epidemiology; Kelli Ryckman, associate professor of epidemiology; Cassie Spracklen, doctoral student in epidemiology; and Marin Schweitzer, assistant professor of internal medicine.
Mr. David T. Y. Liu, author of the classic text Labour Ward Manual and pioneer in chorion villus sampling, generously funds this prize to encourage research and publication in obstetrics and prenatal diagnosis.
The award recipient is chosen annually from papers in the field that have been published in BJOG over the previous 12 months. Contending articles are appraised on their validity, the likelihood of the findings being adopted into practice regionally and internationally, whether the paper is explained sufficiently for replication, and the quality of outcomes relevant for patients.