At Global WACh our mission is to make scientific discoveries, cultivate leaders, and bridge disciplines to advance the tightly connected health of women, adolescents, and children. Global WACh approaches research, activities, and programs through a “lifecycle lens” that views target populations as interconnected instead of independent groups.
What exactly do we mean by “lifecycle lens?” We sat down with Global WACh Director, Grace John-Stewart, MD, PhD, MPH to explain what it is and why it is important in the global health context.
Historically, global health research focused on women, adolescents, and children separately, or examined the maternal-child relationship. Within the last decade, however, adolescents have emerged as a critical population to understand and engage in order to improve health worldwide. With the proliferation of adolescent health research and programs, Global WACh uses a lifecycle lens in which research explores potential impact and benefits throughout the lifecycle, from pregnancy, to neonate, to child, to adolescent, to next generation reproductive health.
Dr. John-Stewart’s research career in mother-to-child HIV transmission involved linking pediatricians with obstetricians and caring for mothers and infants together, with studies to optimize outcomes in both. The questions surrounding how to prevent women and children from getting HIV led to recognizing adolescence as a critical area on which to focus. Adolescents in the pre-reproductive phase need to be incorporated into the lifecycle model – prevention and treatment of children can improve adolescent health and adolescent engagement can improve health in their later life and in the next generation.
“If we do something for women, could we have benefits for them that also benefit their children? If we do something for children, are there ways in which we benefit them moving into adolescence and later life? We’re trying to think about it together.”
Global WACh has three main core focuses of research: Infectious Diseases, Healthy Growth and Development, and Family Planning. All of these areas have elements that directly relate to the lifecycle. For example, healthy, planned pregnancies lead to healthy babies who, when provided with adequate infant nutrition and other interventions, can experience better health outcomes later in life.
Dr. John-Stewart acknowledges it is a challenge incorporate all three populations into any one study, but Global WACh wants researchers to think about how their work in any one of these populations could be linked to the other populations as they develop and implement studies.
“You have to understand the implications of actions in one area for the other, and if you can articulate that it’s good. If you’re doing a study on maternal depression, for example, not every time do you have to measure the child outcomes, but you may speculate or infer how this could benefit both the mother and child.”
You can read more about Global WACh’s mission, vision, and the work that we do here.