Global WACh

October 14, 2015

Spotlight on Global WACh Seed Grant Recipient Deepa Rao

We took a few moments to catch up with Dr. Deepa Rao, an Associate Professor in the Department of Global Health and recipient of a Global WACh integrated health seed grant.  Dr. Rao’s grant funding was awarded to explore the impact of domestic violence and depressive symptoms on preterm birth in South India.  India has a very high domestic violence rate in addition to having the highest number of maternal deaths, preterm birth, and under 5 mortality in the world.  Global WACh viewed this proposal as an opportunity to understand more about the relationship between the two.

“We need to look at the person holistically and realize a mother’s mental health is connected to their baby’s health and it’s not a solely biological process. In my training I’ve always seen the social, interpersonal connected to the biological.”

Dr. Rao was awarded $25,000 to estimate the prevalence of depressive and PTSD symptoms in pregnant women in South India and examine the effects of these symptoms on birth outcomes.  Dr. Rao’s team also conducted interviews with key informants to gather information on how therapeutic techniques could be adapted to be culturally relevant.

Deepa Rao

The study was conducted at two different hospitals, and involved 150 Indian women over the age of 18 who were in their second or third trimester of pregnancy. All of the women were married, had some education, and about nine percent were employed outside of the home. Twenty-one percent of them reported clinically significant depressive symptoms and PTSD.

Her findings, to be published in an upcoming paper entitled The Impact of Domestic Violence and Depressive Symptoms on Preterm Birth in South India, showed that both psychological abuse and clinically significant depressive symptoms were associated with preterm birth. In addition, her team found that maternal depressive symptoms and experience of psychological abuse were strongly associated with each other. During the study, female research assistants asked questions about home situations that could shed light on whether or not the women had suffered abuse. Several women had.

Dr. Rao points out that current policy initiatives focus predominantly on physical abuse, and psychological abuse may be overlooked through these initiatives. She emphasized the need for future research to focus on understanding the psychosocial causes of preterm birth to better target interventions and improve maternal child health in limited resource settings.