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International Health

Professor Abdullah H. Baqui Receives 2017 APHA Carl E. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award

Q&A with Dr. Abdullah Baqui, professor, International Health

The Carl E. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award honors the visionaries and leaders in the American Public Health Association (APHA) who have shaped the direction of international health. Created by APHA's International Health Section, the award was named after the founding chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health, Dr. Carl E. Taylor, who dedicated his life to the well-being of the world's marginalized people. 

Professor Baqui, this year's recipient, has been a faculty member in International Health since 2000. His research focuses on how to improve health and survival of newborns and mothers through the design of simple and effective community-based approaches. In 2009, his article evaluating the effect of expanding care to mothers and newborns through community health care workers in Bangladesh was named a Lancet Paper of the Year. The study, one of the first community randomized controlled trials to evaluate a community-based intervention, showed the services provided by community workers helped reduce neonatal mortality by over a third. The findings have led public health organizations around the world to increase their investment in community-based approaches for newborn survival.    

Professor Baqui (second from left) reviewing community health data in Ethiopia
Professor Abdullah Baqui

What does the Carl Taylor Award mean to you?

I feel humbled and honored to receive this award, which is particularly distinctive since is it named after Professor Carl Taylor. As you know, Professor Taylor was the first chair of the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  He was a man of spiritual conviction who dedicated his life to the well-being of the world's disadvantaged and vulnerable people. I'm one of his many followers and have devoted my career to improving the health and well-being of disadvantaged population, particularly newborns, children and women through community-based research.

I was fortunate enough to work alongside Professor Taylor for many years. One of the highlights of my career was when he came to my office at Hopkins, and gave me a pre-print of his book Empowerment on an Unstable Planet: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change. In his own hand he wrote “To Abdullah Baqui with great respect – Cart E Taylor.” I still carry this book. It is his blessings to me that I will carry all my life wherever I go.

Who else has influenced and shaped your career in public health?

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my mentors at Hopkins, Professors Robert E. Black, Mathuram Santosham and William Bucky Greenough. Without their generous support, I could not have trodden the difficult path form a small town in Bangladesh to Johns Hopkins. The students I’ve worked with have also sustained me over the years. Their insights and enthusiasm have been invaluable. I also must mention the many colleagues I’ve worked with here in the USA and abroad. Without them my work would not be possible. 

Professor Baqui (center) with mentor Professor Robert E. Black (far left), with colleagues at the Projahnmo field site in Sylhet district, Bangladesh
Bangladesh-Baqui and Black

What are you working on now?

One of the projects I’m proudest of is an ongoing partnership in Bangladesh. In 2001, with the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Bangladeshi NGOs, I helped establish a research partnership known as the Projahnmo Study Group in Bangladesh (Project for Advancing the Health of Newborns and Mothers – “Projahnmo” means “generation” in Bangla).

Projahnmo has three broad aims: (1) to develop and test cost-effective and sustainable models of care for newborn babies and mothers in resource-poor settings to provide evidence for innovative interventions, 2) to share lessons learned, support policy formulation and implementation at scale, and (3) to build the public health research capacity in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Over the past 16 years, Projahnmo has developed several community-based interventions to prevent newborn death that have been adapted around the world. Our work however has focused primarily on preventing relatively easily preventable deaths such as from sepsis and pneumonia, that, in most cases, can be treated through community-based care. More “complex” problems such as pre-term births, preeclampsia, and low birth weight, are difficult to prevent and manage in low-resource settings.

As we become more and more successful in reducing newborn deaths, we are left with more complex causes. Therefore, for the past 3 years, Projahnmo has been working on developing a biorepository of maternal pregnancy, delivery and newborn samples with the aim of identifying biomarkers of adverse pregnancy (e.g., preeclampsia, gestational diabetes) and birth outcomes (e.g., stillbirth, preterm birth, small for gestational age) before they occur so that they can be preferentially managed. It’s very exciting work. People in low-resource settings often lack the access to care many of us take for granted. With a simple blood or urine test during pregnancy, we’re hoping to be able to identify and address pregnancy and perinatal risks earlier in pregnancy in rural and low-income areas in Bangladesh and around the world. Through early risk prediction and timely management of complicated pregnancies we hope to further improve maternal health, reduce the burden of stillbirths and improve health and survival of newborns.  

(October 31, 2017)