Strengthening Pediatric Capacity to Improve Health Outcomes

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When a child is sick in the U.S., a pediatrician is often there to help deliver care, support the parent, and help the whole family return to wellness. But in far too many places around the world, our youngest and most vulnerable lack equal access to quality pediatric care.

We discussed the value of building pediatric health capacity with Dr. Kiran Mitha, Seed’s Director of Pediatric Programs, to understand how she and Seed will support physicians in their efforts to improve health outcomes for newborns, infants, and children.

Students from Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during a training.

Seed Global Health recently announced a new five-year strategy to improve health and save lives. How do you see pediatrics as core to Seed’s mission to strengthen health systems?

Seed’s five-year strategy includes maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) as one of 3 key areas of focus. As a global community, we’ve recognized the value of interventions such as vaccination programs and nutritional supplementation in reducing childhood morbidity and mortality.

That’s where pediatrics comes in. Seed hopes to augment existing programs in MNCH by training healthcare providers in the advanced care of newborns and children. This is not only in pediatrics, but also across the spectrum of midwifery, nursing, general practice, and specialized medicine. All sectors of the healthcare system are in contact with children and should be trained to recognize a well versus sick child and understand how to obtain appropriate care for that child. As we continue to advance the health of children, we should train healthcare providers to start looking at the child in a holistic manner to promote wellness rather than just treating disease.

What is a recent example of where this augmentation has really helped advance change?

Across multiple sites where Seed has worked, we have ramped up our training of healthcare professionals in Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) and other resuscitation programs. We trained all of our educators during their orientation in the U.S. in HBB and they’ve been able to start, sustain, and improve multiple training programs around it. Some of our partner sites are now incorporating HBB into their official curricula which will ensure that it is taught well-beyond Seed’s presence at these sites. We have also improved the training experience by assisting with procurement of training equipment and developing simulation labs at sites where trainees can practice their skills in a safe setting.

You mentioned Seed’s focus on child health across disciplines. As a pediatric physician and clinical professor, what is the importance of medicine and nursing working hand-in-hand when it comes to healthy children all around the world?

The majority of children in the world are cared for by providers that are not pediatricians. It is imperative that all those in the health system who are in contact with children are well-trained in pediatrics. Community health workers and nurses are likely to come in contact with children on a far more frequent and regular basis than physicians. Their ability to recognize, refer, and treat children helps strengthen the health system as a whole. It eases the strain on the limited number of physicians and pediatricians who can then focus on those children who most require their attention.

Seed’s new strategy focuses on three main pillarseducation, practice, and policy. What is unique about Seed’s approach that builds meaningful change for children’s health?

Seed’s role in higher education helps connect different segments of the educational system. In the countries where we work, healthcare education falls under the Ministry of Education, yet the practice component is under the Ministry of Health. The individuals who work within each of the ministries may or may not overlap, where students are learning from certain professors in the classroom and working with others in the clinic or hospital settings. Seed’s educators are meant to straddle both spheres of learning, classroom and clinical, to ensure what is learned in theory can be applied in practice and vice versa. By following students in both settings, Seed educators can help strengthen connections between book learning and hands-on experience.

Students from Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during a training.

Humans are the heart of the health system and by investing in human capacity, Seed is creating a long-lasting effect on the health of a population as a whole. Training more effective and higher quality midwives, nurses, and physicians locally will have ripple effects on communities. We hope these individuals become champions for their countries and help catapult progress.