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For maternal health, a crucial boost

Winter 2012 ]

$12 million Gates Foundation grant to HSPH supports one-of-a-kind task force

Each year, more than 340,000 women around the world die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. To help lower that alarming number and improve maternal health in developing countries, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Harvard School of Public Health a three-year, $12 million grant for an initiative called the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF)—a sort of one-stop shop for all maternal health information and research around the world. According to Gates Foundation senior program officer France Donnay, the MHTF “is the only consensus building forum that exists on maternal health.”

The MHTF was established in 2008 at EngenderHealth, a global organization involved in family planning, maternal health, and gender equity. It was led at the time by Ana Langer, who is now professor of the practice of public health and coordinator of the Dean’s Special Initiative on Women and Health at HSPH. Donnay says the Gates Foundation award should help build on the MHTF’s previous efforts and strengthen its research and education components.

Langer calls the Gates grant crucial. “Without the Gates Foundation’s support, the task force would not exist,” she says. Over the next three years, the MHTF will fight for improved maternal health on several fronts around the world, with emphasis on three countries struggling hardest with the issue: Nigeria, Ethiopia, and India.

For example, the group will widely disseminate the latest scientific news about maternal health, primarily through a website currently available in four languages and soon to be available in more. It will encourage and support major research and innovation. And it will create internships for students at maternal health organizations.

“There are many very good maternal health projects and programs in the world,” explains Donnay. “But there is only one place where you can get such a wealth of information and fully understand what’s going on in the field—and that’s the Maternal Health Task Force. We think that being hosted at a prestigious school of public health will elevate its credibility, its convening power, and its level of recognition.”

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