U. S. Medical student receives fellowship for research in Liberia

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine student Joseph Perosky has received a Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship from the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.

The fellowship will support a pilot study in Liberia to develop a better system for compiling and analyzing newborn and maternal death information, with a goal of reducing the numbers of deaths.

In his near-decade of work in West Africa, Perosky observed that health workers interview family members when a death occurs and fill out a lengthy report by hand.

“And then essentially it sits in a file cabinet at the county health office,” said Perosky “Not much is done with it.”

In the study, Perosky will provide health workers with computers and speech-to-text software linked to a global positioning mapping program. The detailed reports, known as “verbal autopsies,” will allow Liberian health officials to analyze the causes of the deaths more precisely, he said.

“That information can be used to do a qualitative analysis to build more of a picture of what went wrong,” Perosky said, adding that health workers will be able to “see a pattern of where these deaths are taking place.”

Many of the deaths, he suspects, are due to the inaccessibility of medical facilities in remote villages. Currently, many expectant mothers walk long distances while in labor to deliver their babies. The new data should help government officials make better decisions on where to build medical clinics.

The fellowship is one of two grants Perosky recently received to improve maternal and newborn outcomes. With the other grant, from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, he will study the impact of the Ebola disease outbreak on medical care for mothers and infants.

During the 2014 outbreak, many health workers normally assigned to “maternity waiting homes,” where many pregnant women stay while awaiting delivery, were diverted to deal with the epidemic, Perosky said. Later this year, he plans on interviewing health workers and women of child-bearing age about their experiences during and after the Ebola outbreak.

He suspects that maternal and infant deaths increased, some directly caused by the disease, but others likely due to a lack of medical care for the mothers and their babies.

“Their health care systems were so underprepared to handle an outbreak like this,” Perosky said.

Information from the study could help the country be better prepared to address a similar outbreak while continuing to provide medical care for pregnant women and infants.

Both research projects will be based in Liberia’s Bong County.

Before starting medical school, Perosky, who already holds degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering, spent nearly a decade working to improve care for women and children in Ghana, as well as Liberia.

In his third year of medical school, Perosky said he eventually hopes to establish an obstetrics and gynecology practice in the U.S. while continuing to provide research and medical care in West Africa.

“That’s where my heart is…West Africa,” he said. “My goal, both domestically and abroad, is to work with women from an underserved background to improve their lives and improve their healthcare outcomes.”

Source: Michigan State University College

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