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Gillings School of Global Public Health Professor Works to Implement Innovations in Healthcare for Women and Children

March 2, 2018
Gillings School of Global Public Health

“For the sake of the women, children, adolescents and families we serve in each of our communities and in the communities of our colleagues around the world, this is a promise on which we must deliver.”

These were some of the closing words from Herbert Peterson, as he delivered the Hale Lecture to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in May 2017. Peterson, who is the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of maternal and child health in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, recently expanded the reach of those words by including them in a personal perspective in the March issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In the piece, titled “Health and Well-Being for All: Delivering on the Promise for Those We Serve,” Peterson shared his thoughts about the challenges and potential inherent in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of achieving “health and well-being for all” by 2030. Focusing on one aspect of this massive goal – the need to adequately support the health of every mother and newborn child – he exhorted colleagues to be mission-driven, science-driven and team-driven while finding the way forward.

Peterson’s words carry the weight of experience. A former chair of the Gillings School’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, he currently holds a joint appointment in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine and serves as director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health. In a second article included in the same issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Peterson and colleagues offered expert commentary on the role of implementation science in achieving global goals and objectives for maternal and child health.

The research article is titled, “Implementing Innovations in Global Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health: Realizing the Potential for Implementation Science.” In it, Peterson and several co-authors used evidence synthesized from the field of implementation science and concluded that successful and sustainable outcomes are contingent upon interactions between three key components: effective interventions, effective implementation and enabling contexts.

“Discovering how to maximize the synergy in these interactions is at the heart of implementation science,” Peterson said. “Our firm belief is that success on this front is contingent upon the creation of virtuous cycles between research and practice, such that our best research informs practice and experience gained in practice informs future research.”

In the article, researchers outlined strategies for successful and sustainable outcomes, noting that they will require, above all, intentional and effective collaborations between scientists, implementers, policy makers and funders. Another critical element will be building the capacity of countries worldwide so they can address ongoing challenges in implementation.

“Realizing the full potential of this historic moment will require that we improve our ability to successfully implement life-saving and life-enhancing innovations, particularly in low-resource settings,” said Peterson. “We are living in a moment, however, in which the political will and priority for addressing challenges to the global health of women, children and adolescents have never been greater. Developing and applying the field of implementation science will help us to realize the potential of this moment.”

Peterson’s co-authors on the research article include: Joumana Haidar, implementation science lead for the WHO Collaborating Center, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and business officer for the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases; Dean Fixsen, research professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute; Rohit Ramaswamy, clinical associate professor of maternal and child health and public health leadership at the Gillings School and director of the Center for Global Learning; Bryan J. Weiner, professor of global health and health services at the University of Washington; and Sheila Leatherman, research professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School.

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