The College of Public Health has been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Alison Norris, assistant professor in the OSU College of Public Health and in the College of Medicine, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project focused on reproductive health research and contraceptive use among women and men in Malawi. The research findings will be used to develop an easy-to-implement counseling tool for clinicians and community health workers who are talking with women and couples about family planning.
[Photo: Dr. Alison Norris]
Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) supports innovative thinkers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Norris’ project, which provides $100,000 for its first phase, is one of more than 55 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 17 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.
The peer-reviewed Grand Challenges Explorations grants are extremely competitive. In this round of funding, only 56 of 1,400 proposals from around the world (4%) were funded by the Gates Foundation.
To receive funding, Dr. Norris and other Grand Challenges Explorations winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of six critical global heath and development topic areas. The foundation will be accepting applications for the next GCE round in February 2017.
The new project which the Gates Foundation is funding will examine the barriers and facilitators to contraceptive use. It has developed out of a research partnership established in 2013 between Ohio State’s College of Public Health, the Malawi-based NGO Child Legacy International, and the Malawi College of Medicine. UTHA is the name of the overall research program, which stands for Umoyo wa Thanzi, and means “health for life” in the Chichewa language.
“Our group studies why women and couples who don’t want to have a baby sometimes don’t use family planning methods,” said Dr. Norris. “When couples don’t use family planning, women are much more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. About 40% of all pregnancies in Malawi, where we will do our study, are unplanned. In the United States, the same proportion — 40% of all pregnancies — are unplanned. Unplanned pregnancy is an issue that is experienced everywhere in the world.”
“We are thrilled that funding from the Gates Foundation will allow us to understand the barriers to family planning use. We will use our results to design a tool for clinicians and community health workers to guide women and couples for preventing unplanned pregnancies,” explained Dr. Norris. “You might be surprised at the similarities between Malawi and the US in terms of barriers to using family planning. What we learn in Malawi will be useful to improving care and health outcomes for underserved communities in the US. When pregnancies are planned, women and the infants tend to be healthier than when pregnancies are unplanned.
“For example, we know that very close birth spacing is an important risk for pre-term birth, which is a leading cause of infant mortality in Ohio. This Gates Foundation grant is an investment in our ability to provide better services, leading to better health, for women and families in Malawi and around the world, including right here at home,” said Dr. Norris.