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February 22, 2013

Former Student Focuses on Maternity’s Thin Line

Özge TunçalpNow at WHO, Özge Tunçalp analyzes what separates mothers who die from those who survive.

WHO researcher Özge Tunçalp, MD, PhD ’12 was among the first in sub-Saharan Africa to gather data about women who narrowly escaped death after complications during pregnancy or birth.

Tunçalp initiated a study of maternal “near misses” in Ghana by encouraging clinics and hospitals to track and analyze near misses, determine what might prevent them, make changes and then repeat the cycle. She used a data collection tool pioneered by reproductive health experts worldwide, including Linda A. Bartlett M.D., MHSc, a Bloomberg School associate scientist in International Health.

Now based in Geneva, Switzerland, where she works as a consultant for WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research,Tunçalp did her dissertation research at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in the capital of Ghana. She explains that near misses usually occur in health care facilities where medical interventions prevent crises from turning into fatalities. Until recently, these clinics and hospitals have been veritable black boxes, she adds.   

"I ended up working with the University of Ghana because of the Bloomberg School's established relationships with African universities,” says Tunçalp. “The near-miss study led to an ongoing collaboration with the research team based in Accra and since then we have been working on a number of other studies.”

As a doctoral student at the Bloomberg School, Tunçalp worked with Michelle Hindin, PhD ’98, MHS ’90, an associate professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health (PFRH).  Hindin describes maternal mortality as the tip of the iceberg: “Women who nearly die but survive are much more common,” she says, “and their needs are not being addressed.”

The good news is that the near-miss approach is gaining traction, Tunçalp reports: “At the most recent [international ob-gyn] conference I attended, there were many oral presentations and sessions on near-miss morbidity and near-miss audits.”

Tunçalp says she plans to continue working in local facilities and communities in order to identify ways to improve care and inform policy and programmatic decisions.

—Maryalice Yakutchik

Read the full story "Maternity's Thin Line" in Johns Hopkins Public Health.