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Saturday June 25th

Donation from Gates Foundation will help childbirth safety in third-world countries

<p>The Old Well is a fixture of McCorkle Place.</p>
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The Old Well is a fixture of McCorkle Place.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation granted the University $14 million to conduct two studies geared toward making childbirth safer for both the mother and infant in some of the world’s poorest countries. 

“Almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, as evidenced by the huge disparities found between the richest and poorest countries," according to a UNICEF analysis. "The lifetime risk of maternal death in high-income countries is 1 in 3,300 compared to 1 in 41 in low-income.” 

With the help of the Gates Foundation, the LABOR and FAMLI studies aim to break that socioeconomic divide. 

The larger of the two, the LABOR study, is “centered around the idea of ‘can we use new technology that’s inexpensive and appropriate for use in low-income settings?’” said Dr. Jeffrey Stringer, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine and principal investigator of the project. 

Brown University and Northwestern University are working with the UNC Schools of Medicine and Global Public Health on the LABOR project. The team is hoping to develop a small, wearable sensor that can be produced under minimal costs and monitor pregnant women’s vital signs, helping predict which patients are going to have problems during labor and allowing intervention on these issues to occur earlier. 

Faculty from the N.C. State University College of Engineering are collaborating with the University’s OBGYN and psychiatry departments on the FAMLI study. They hope to deploy handheld ultrasound probes that can connect to an iPhone and cost less than $1,000 in developing countries like Zambia, which is the project’s flagship obstetric site. 

The studies are currently looking to expand their work into one or two additional countries. They received 57 applications from all over the world, and are in the process of reviewing them before launching the next phase of their study involving patient enrollment toward the end of August.

The three major killers of women and babies being targeted by the LABOR and FAMLI studies are maternal death, stillbirth and neonatal death. 

Prior to moving to North Carolina in 2012, the project was already very well funded and had a large selection of places to land. As such, the team performed an exhaustive search to find an institution with what they believed to be the key component to these studies: a collaborative nature.

“Carolina scores far above any other institution that we know of, or looked at, on the collaboration scale,” Stringer said. 

As a part of the Campaign for Carolina, these studies embody the mission statements of the University: “Of the public, for the public” and “Innovation made fundamental.” 

The Gates donation is seen as “a beautiful expression of the incredible work and impact that people throughout the University are capable of,” said Kim Elenez, the chief marketing officer for the Office of University Development.

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