Africa has many of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with an overall average of 53 deaths per 1,000 births. However, in Senegal, the infant mortality rate is much lower, thanks to targeted interventions and a unique approach to low-resource neonatal care.
Zaira Gasanova, a second-year medical student, investigated the effectiveness of these interventions for her Area of Scholarly Concentration (AOSC) research project. She was analyzing patterns of success, part of a larger effort to identify countries that improve their neonatal and child mortality, and presented her findings at a recent AOSC poster session.
Read a Q&A with Gasanova below.
Why did you choose Feinberg?
I chose Feinberg because I connected with all of the faculty and students during my time spent interviewing here, and I felt like my goals aligned with the mission of the school. I was impressed by how there seems to be a specialist for absolutely anything here, as well as the devotion that Feinberg has to serving the community.
What are your medical or research interests?
My medical interests are very broad right now — I’m interested in women’s health, mental health and critical care.
You investigated neonatal mortality in Senegal. Why did you choose to investigate this? What did you find?
I wanted experience working in public health and global health, and I knew very little about Senegal when starting the research. The work I did had a very practical orientation, so I was interested to learn more about what really works in regards to lowering neonatal mortality.
I looked through all available information in published and unpublished literature to extract information on the ways that Senegal implemented interventions targeting child mortality. Additionally, I gathered information — mostly from the Demographic and Health Surveys program — about the coverage of the interventions.
For example, the percentage of women who received four antenatal care visits in Senegal. In this way, we measured the effectiveness of the initiatives, and we analyzed the information on how they implemented the interventions in a qualitative manner to identify patterns and cross-cutting lessons about their success.
I found that a ton of factors go into successfully implementing public health initiatives and while it is extremely complicated, Senegal was particularly successful in areas having to do with planning and data monitoring. My work is part of a larger effort to identify how certain exemplar countries successfully managed to lower neonatal and child mortality, working with the University of Health Equity in Rwanda, a new university founded by Partners in Health.
I also learned some French words in the process! The language barrier was challenging because a lot of national documents on health policies, for example, were only available in French, so I had to use online translators to decipher some of them.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
Serving patients at Devon Clinic — where I was a coordinator — who have nowhere else to go for healthcare has been very rewarding. It was great seeing patients for return visits and working to provide them with preventative, longitudinal care. They are so appreciative, and I was able to learn more about their culture through the experience.
Also, successfully spotting a tympanic membrane in a patient for the first time.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students?
Keep the big picture of why you are doing what you’re doing in mind, and the day-to-day stuff will fall into place. And don’t forget to enjoy the process!