Undergraduates Create New Initiative To Focus on Maternal Health

Two undergraduates have transformed what began as an inspirational conversation with a journalist into an emerging campus initiative dedicated to improving maternal health.

Last spring, Michelle J. Wang ’14 and Eunice Kim ’14-’15 had a conversation with Sheryl WuDunn, coauthor of “Half the Sky­­,” a book about global oppression of women. Wang and Kim were already keenly concerned about the issues of maternal morbidity and malnutrition, but WuDunn encouraged them to take the next step by organizing on campus.

Now, after months of planning, Wang and Kim have launched the Undergraduate Maternal Health Initiative. The club was approved by the Office of Student Life in November and will hold its first official meeting next week.

“We’re hoping that it’s a way to raise awareness of maternal health and encourage college students to look at different avenues and ways to get involved in maternal health,” Wang said. “Maternal morbidity isn’t really well known.”

Wang said that the organization already has about 20 members who work on three teams: research and development, finance and events, and publicity and public relations.

Jane Chung ’15, one of the co-chairs for the research and development team, said that she and other club members want to launch a pilot program, hopefully in partnership with the Massachusetts General Hospital, to educate Cambridge-area mothers about maintaining their health throughout and after pregnancy. “We’re really excited about the idea of creating an education curriculum, because that’s kind of lacking in maternal health,” Chung said.

Members also hope to educate mothers on the importance of receiving clinical checkups during pregnancy.

Jane Y. Suh ’14, also a co-chair for the research and development team, said that she was inspired to work with the initiative after studying global maternal mortality in a Harvard course.

She said she and other team members have been exploring ways to promote maternal nutrition worldwide, including creating a program to educate mothers about healthy eating.

“Especially in developing countries, [mothers] don’t really have access to foods or know what foods to eat to improve their own health and improve the health of their child,” she said. “We can provide awareness to these mothers and let them know what kinds of foods they should be taking.”

During the Harvard College Women’s Center’s Women’s Week this semester, the group plans to host a screening of the second part of the PBS documentary film adapted from WuDunn’s book. Following the screening, the group’s advisor, Harvard School of Public Health professor Ana Langer, will field questions on maternal health.

—Staff writer D. Simone Kovacs can be reached at dkovacs@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @simkovacs.

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