Improving Global Maternal and Child Health through Innovative Technology

For her summer internship, Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Marissa Vodola worked for Americares – a global health and humanitarian aid organization – to research innovations and best practices in Maternal and Child Health to inform the organization’s project work design for future programs and proposals. Marissa is currently studying Maternal and Child Health in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine’s Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences Department.

Figure 1: Quote by Americares’ founder Bob Macauley

Every morning that I arrived at my internship with Americares, I was greeted by a large quote painted onto the wall near my cubicle: “The fact that you can’t help everybody doesn’t mean that you can’t help somebody. So do whatever little you can – or as much as you can.” I believe this quote by Americares’ founder Bob Macauley truly illustrates the drive and purpose behind the organization. Americares is a disaster relief and global health organization that is headquartered in Stamford, CT. Aside from the United States, Americares works in over 90 countries, with offices in El Salvador, India, Philippines, Nepal, Liberia, and Tanzania. Emergency Programs, Access to Medicine, Clinical Services, and Community Health are the organization’s top priorities.


Figure 2: Americares Summer 2017 Intern Class

The first day of my internship at Americares was slightly overwhelming, but nonetheless an exciting introduction to the Americares’ team. At 9:00am sharp, all 20 interns (pictured in Figure 2) attended the organization’s company-wide Monday Morning Meeting run by President and CEO Michael Nyenhuis. From then on, the 11-week internship program gave us countless opportunities to learn more about global health and how the organization succeeds.

Every week the interns attended a Summer Learning Series run by members of various departments. Most weeks, these meetings educated us on topics relevant to Americares’ work. My favorite learning series was a breakfast with Michael Nyenhuis, where we had the opportunity to ask him questions about Americares and his background in global health. Another interesting learning series was our tour of Americares’ Distribution Warehouse, where the organization stores its donated medical supplies.

Figure 3: Our group practicing for our final intern presentation

The Intern Group Project was another major component of the internship program. For the project, we were put into small groups and assigned a health sector (i.e. community health), along with several nonprofits that work in this field. My group and I then put together a presentation outlining potential opportunities to expand Americares’ community health capabilities through new partnerships. At the end of the internship program, our group presented our findings to Michael Nyenhuis and several other members of the Americares Leadership Team. A photo of my group practicing for our formal proposal can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 4: Researching statistics for an upcoming proposal

Did you know that every day, about 830 women die from pregnancy-related complications – or that infant deaths can total 4.9 million in one year alone (WHO, 2015; NIH, 2011)? What about the fact that a majority of these deaths can actually be prevented with the proper medical supplies and interventions? These are the statistics I kept in mind when conducting research for my internship position. My unique role at Americares was in the Technical Unit, working as a Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Intern. My official responsibilities included conducting public health literature reviews on innovations and best practices in MCH, consolidating my findings into reports that the organization can utilize in future programs/proposals, and assisting the team with administrative duties. Figure 4 illustrates some of the research I conducted on malaria rates among pregnant women in the Kigoma Region of Tanzania. This research was later used in one of Americares’ submitted grant proposals.

Over the course of my internship, I identified numerous innovations that could help alleviate maternal and child morbidity and mortality, specifically in developing countries. One of the most interesting innovations that I researched was a non-pneumatic antishock garment. Surprisingly, the garment evolved from space technology that was originally developed by NASA and is now being used to manage PPH. The garment prevents blood loss by applying pressure to the lower body during PPH in order to force blood to key organs. The Neopenda Wearable Monitoring Device was another notable innovation that I researched. The device is essentially a tiny baby hat that measures vital signs, such as neonatal pulse rate, temperature and blood oxygen level, to closely monitor at-risk newborns. A few other notable innovations that I believe can save lives are:

All of the innovations I researched have the potential to protect and improve MCH in low-resource settings. At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to host a presentation on “Innovations in Global Health” for the Technical Unit and other interested staff. At the meeting, we discussed a variety of topics including: 1) What is innovation? 2) How to measure innovation, 3) Innovations in MNCH, & 4) How to embed innovation into Americares’ culture. I am interested to see how Americares uses more innovations in their future global health and humanitarian efforts.

My internship with Americares was extraordinary, to say the least. Working at an organization so dedicated to improving global health has given me an immensely rewarding experience that I could not have gotten from reading a textbook or sitting in a classroom. I am so thankful for the time I’ve spent working at Americares and am excited to see what my future in global health holds. Although I know that I cannot help everybody, I hope to do as much as I can in my career to help somebody.