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The Thomas Jefferson Fund Supports Public Health Research in Sub-Saharan Africa

Learn more about the work of Thomas Jefferson Fund grantees Florence Bodeau-Livinec and Joanna Maselko. 

Anemia in Sub-Saharan Africa

The World Health Organization estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, 40% of pregnant women and 60% of children have anemia, a condition primarily caused by iron deficiency and malaria. Florence Bodeau-Livinec, an assistant professor at l’École des Hautes Études en Santé Publique (the French School of Public Health), has been researching this public health crisis in Benin since 2011. In a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Bodeau-Livinec found an association between anemia and low birth weight, which increases the risk of infant mortality. Her research also shows that anemia during pregnancy may decrease cognitive and motor function in infants. To combat this problem, the World Health Organization recommends daily iron supplements for infants and young children. However, research has yet to determine the best practices of iron supplementation, including optimal dose, schedule and duration. To further study this issue, Bodeau-Livinec is partnering with Joanna Maselko, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, through a Thomas Jefferson Fund project to conduct interdisciplinary research to identify best practices for administering iron supplements.

Qualitative Research in Benin

The grantees’ qualitative study builds on existing research to help the public health sector better understand perceptions and knowledge of and barriers to iron supplementation, and inform best practices in Benin and other malaria endemic areas. Their research project is part of a larger longitudinal study taking place in Benin’s semi-rural district of Allada, tracking the health of mothers and children over time. Maselko and Bodeau-Livinec’s work contributes to this ongoing study by studying women’s knowledge and perceptions of iron supplementation, exploring factors that affect intake, and identifying strategies to make iron supplementation more accessible in Benin. Maselko is a specialist in maternal depression, and as such is interested in investigating the effect of maternal depression on adherence to iron supplementation. Their research team will conduct 30 field interviews with local women to assess local knowledge and gather suggestions for improved access to iron supplements. The results of their research will also be shared with the local Ministry of Health in Benin.

Transatlantic Collaboration

This collaborative research project has served to strengthen the existing partnership between UNC and EHESP faculty in research and pedagogy in the areas of pediatric and perinatal epidemiology. The Thomas Jefferson Fund aims to encourage and support this kind of cooperation between promising young French and American scholars and their institutions, fostering forward-thinking collaborative research that addresses pressing global challenges. In our globalized world, French-American cooperation in science and research is integral to identifying solutions to key 21st century public health challenges that transcend national and cultural boundaries.