Improving health care for women and children in Africa

David Cechetto, PhD

By Jesica Hurst, BA'14

In the last 25 years, the rate and number of child deaths around the world has been cut by more than one half. While this progress is impressive, child deaths, as well as maternal deaths, remain a huge issue for developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

David Cechetto, PhD, professor, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, wants to improve these outcomes. He recently received $8.9 million in funding from Global Affairs Canada for his program Training, Support and Access Model for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Rwanda and Burundi (TSAM). The grant is part of the Partnerships for Strengthening Maternal, Newborn and Child Health program.

The funding will give Cechetto the opportunity to lead a team from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry that will work with experts from the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Faculty of Social Science and other Canadian universities, as well as people on the ground in Africa, to develop training, mentoring and access programs for health care providers.

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is develop a comprehensive model of continuing professional development, particularly around the area of emergency perinatal care, that we can prove is effective and that can be applied to other countries dealing with similar issues,” Cechetto said.

TSAM will provide continuing professional development that focuses on emergency procedures, as that has been identified as an area that health care providers in Rwanda and Burundi are not as comfortable or familiar with.

The program will train health care providers to assess and treat common and critical health care factors directly tied to maternal and child health outcomes. These factors, which can be fatal, include hemorrhaging, sepsis, hypertension, preeclampsia, cardiac disease, infant infection, maternal mental health and more.

Cechetto would also like to have community health care workers in the villages who can recognize symptoms and complications, so mothers and infants are provided care when they need it.

“Mother and infant mortality is high, and it doesn’t have to be,” said Cechetto. “The high rate is partially due to lack of resources, but also the need for a health care system that is prepared for the realities of childbirth in these countries. Too many mothers’ and babies’ lives are lost to causes that we can prevent.”

Cechetto, who has been doing work in Rwanda for more than 15 years, is excited about the funding the project has received.

“It’s humbling to receive this funding, because Global Affairs Canada gave the full amount that I requested,” he said. “We want to use the funding as efficiently as possible, and the way in which that can be done is by working with our incredible team of Canadians, and also our partners in Rwanda — our ability to move forward has come from this amazing team effort.”

Even though this project is rewarding for him on a professional level, Cechetto explained it is also rewarding on a personal level, as he has built a deep connection to the people and places in Africa that he will be working with.

“We really have an obligation to contribute wherever we can, and there was an opportunity for me to do so through this work,” Cechetto said. “Health care should be something that everyone has access to on an equal basis, which is our ultimate goal through this program.”