While the world has made significant progress towards empowering women and reducing gender inequalities, there is still an urgent need to improve equal access to education and health care. Currently, one of the most pressing issues related to female health is the high rate of maternal and perinatal deaths, many of which are preventable. The International Center for Maternal and Newborn Health (ICMNH) at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) aims to address the burden of these preventable deaths by enhancing the knowledge base to understand the major causes of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality, and developing evidenced-based public health interventions against them in different communities around the world.

ICMNH is hosted by the Health Systems Program in the Department of International Health. In partnership with many local and international stakeholders and collaborators, ICMNH develops and evaluates inexpensive community-based approaches that save millions of mothers and babies. The Center conducts research in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and relies on a strong local workforce in these regions in order to provide cost-effective methods of reducing maternal and newborn deaths.

ICMNH has a large field site in Bangladesh that was established in 2001 as a partnership between Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and several Bangladeshi NGOs. The Projahnmo Field Site has a complete census and on-going surveillance of a population size of 750,000, which allows them to have the capacity and infrastructure to do large, community-based studies. The field site capacities include a state-of-the-art laboratory managed by Dr. Samir Saha and his team at the Child Health Research Foundation (CHFR), a high-quality data center managed by Johns Hopkins – Bangladesh, and a multidisciplinary team of investigators with expertise in epidemiology, pediatrics, neonatology, obstetrics, pneumology, and vaccine development. The field site is focused in the Sylhet region in particular, which has the highest rates of newborn and infant mortality in all of Bangladesh.

The work of the Center has been instrumental in helping to develop national and global guidelines for improving maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization (WHO), along with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), recently released a joint statement on guidelines for managing possible severe infections in infants, based largely off of the Center’s work.

The Center is part of a WHO-led, multi-country project called the Alliance for Maternal and Newborn Health Improvement (AMANHI) study, which has led to an impressive bio-specimen repository of 2,600 women that includes placental samples,  saliva swabs, and other samples. The Center is developing partnerships with other universities and centers in order to detect biological and genetic markers of adverse pregnancy outcomes. This will enable better prediction of healthy or unhealthy outcomes for both mothers and babies in the future.  

As communities move closer to gender equality in all aspects of society, the burden that existing health disparities place on women must be addressed. Cost-effective methods of significantly reducing preventable maternal, newborn and child health are known, and it is critical to prioritize the implementation of these efforts. It is especially important to make sure that the methods are sustainable, based off of sound evidence, and community-based. Read more about the Center’s work in maternal and newborn health.