Columbia World Projects Holds Forum on Improving Maternal Health

January 29, 2019

Experts from across Columbia University came together on Tuesday, January 29 with practitioners from government, business, the media, philanthropies, and grassroots and international organizations to discuss nearly 20 proposals for projects aimed at addressing some of the greatest challenges in maternal health.

The meeting was the fourth Forum convened by Columbia World Projects (CWP), an initiative that seeks to bring Columbia University’s unique knowledge and capacities to bear on addressing real world problems by working with partners beyond academia to test promising cross-disciplinary innovations in the field, while also seeking to enrich research and scholarship.

CWP holds three to four Forum meetings each year on different fundamental challenges, which are used to develop ideas for specific projects that it will consider implementing in the United States and around the world.

More than 30 experts spent the day at Columbia identifying the most urgent and intractable challenges in maternal health, and evaluating individual project proposals that participants had prepared in advance. All proposals had to bring together partners from inside and outside of academia, and be able to demonstrate measurable impact on improving maternal health within five years.

Among some of the challenges that projects sought to address are the profound disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity along racial and socioeconomic lines, particularly among African American women in the United States; the pervasive lack of access to mental health care during and after pregnancy; and how to better predict and address the complications arising from preterm birth.

The Forum participants were drawn from a wide range of fields, including engineering, public health, social work, the media, medicine, the law, housing, and data science, and not only presented their own ideas, but also reflected on how proposals could better draw upon skills and innovations in their respective disciplines.

“There has been significant progress in recent decades towards improving maternal health in many parts of the world; still, limited access to decent care continues to take the lives of many women, and to inflict lasting harm on many more,” said Nicholas Lemann, the director of Columbia World Projects. “The projects we are considering at this Forum, jointly shaped by academics and practitioners, show that there are ways to address some of the most vexing challenges in maternal health. Columbia is eager to bring some of these possible solutions out into the world.” 

In the coming weeks, Columbia World Projects will produce a report on the findings of the Forum and the projects that, in the view of participants, most merit pursuing as potential CWP projects. A number of those projects will be developed further over the coming months, before a decision is reached on whether to implement them.