A December Full of Gifts

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By: Seth Cochran, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Seth Cochran, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. He will be blogging about his experience every month, and you can learn more about him, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

December promised to be an eventful month with the activities planned at EHAS, the International Obstetric Fistula Working Group (IOFWG) meeting in Senegal and the holidays. But fate intervened when the Spanish air traffic controllers decided to strike on the day of my flight, effectively cancelling my trip to Africa. While extremely disappointed to miss the IOFWG meeting, I realized how valuable a surprise week of focus could be in terms of moving things forward.

At EHAS, we are working on an exhibit of the system here in the lab. What is an exhibit? Think science fair on steroids. If a picture is worth a thousands words, then setting up a little working model of the EHAS product set in the lab is worth a thousand pictures. We know this because every week or so, a small group of people crowd around one of the engineers in our lab and vocally marvel at how cool this stuff is. Setting up an area of the lab with dedicated and functional examples and a program of how to show them off will pique the imagination of anyone in the viewing audience. We also plan to increase the size of that audience by making videos of the EHAS team presenting the technology and put those videos online. Construction will likely start in January or February and the university’s film students have agreed to help us in video production.

On my way back across the pond for the holidays, I had the opportunity to stop into Washington, DC and meet with John Townsend and Joanne Gleason of the Population Council. I studied Operations Research at Cornell and have applied that education in the private sector, but I hoped the Population Council might help me understand how I could more effectively focus this training on maternal health research. I have tons of ideas, but really need some coaching on structure and approach in terms of most effectively studying how to improve performance in the space. John and Joanne were beyond helpful, advising me on high-level research strategy and providing me a several tactical resources, including a handbook that directly addressed my needs. Their openness and desire to help and inspire really impressed me.

Joanne had to leave the meeting early and John spent the better part of an hour explaining everything from the Population Council’s evolution to emerging technologies in contraception. To say I learned a great deal is an understatement – my brain was stretched. I know that because I left the meeting feeling dizzy and enthusiastic. Having access to inspirational and mind stretching leaders like this is probably one of the best parts of being a Young Champion of Maternal Health.

On December 24th, the government of Madrid gave the world an amazing gift by fully funding an EHAS program in Peru. They approved the project some time ago, but with the dreadful state of the economy, getting the money out has proved challenging. It is a huge win for EHAS and the mothers of Peru and could not have come at a more opportune time.