About 40 students from GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services spent their Saturday spreading awareness of maternal and child health in three District wards with the highest infant mortality rates.
To kick off National Public Health Week, GW’s Public Health Student Association (PHSA) sponsored SPHHS’s first-ever day of service.
“I can’t think of anything more important than giving something back to the community,” said SPHHS Dean Lynn Goldman. “One of the great things about George Washington University is that service to the community is such a focus. Even small efforts to give back can make a large impact.”
Earlier this semester, SPHHS partnered with Text4Baby, a free text messaging service for pregnant and new mothers across the U.S. created by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. The service sends text messages, which are timed to a baby’s due date or a baby’s birthday and give tips on things like nutrition, safety and immunizations. Text4Baby aims to reduce the infant mortality rate by increasing knowledge and healthy behaviors among pregnant and new mothers.
Nationwide, Text4Baby has 297,000 participants, but in D.C. where the infant mortality rate is significantly higher than the national average, there are only 862 pregnant and new mothers enrolled.
“Text4Baby is an innovative and new approach to addressing maternal and child health issues here in the U.S.,” said Amita Vyas, director of SPHHS’s Maternal and Child Health Program. “We are thrilled to have this new community-academic partnership focused on our local community given the high rates of infant mortality here in the District.”
According to the most recent data available, 11.9 babies per 1,000 die before their first birthday in D.C. compared with 6.7 babies per 1,000 nationally. And 11.1 percent of all babies born in the District have a low birth weight compared with 8.2 percent in the U.S. Within the District, infant mortality rates are higher in Wards 5, 7 and 8 and for blacks and Hispanics.
SPHHS students Diana Dolinsky and Lani Ellis wanted to address these disparities through their practicum, a required internship for SPHHS graduate students. They completed a needs assessment and implementation plan for a Text4Baby outreach campaign in the District and identified specific neighborhoods with the greatest need for the Text4Baby service.
“D.C. has one of the lowest enrollments of unique users in the nation, yet one of the greatest needs for the program,” said Ms. Ellis, who is in SPHHS’s joint Physician Assistant/Master of Public Health Program.
With the help of PHSA, Ms. Ellis and Ms. Dolinsky organized Saturday’s service project where GW students split up into small teams and visited specific retailers, health clinics, libraries and businesses to increase awareness of – and hopefully enrollment in –Text4Baby.
Armed with hundreds of Text4Baby referral cards, fliers and posters, a team of three SPHHS graduate students and one SPHHS staff member set out to Congress Heights on Saturday morning. They visited beauty parlors, nail salons and several grocery stores along Alabama Avenue, SE, and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, asking business owners if they would display Text4Baby promotional material and help spread the word.
Halli Olsen, who is studying epidemiology, walked into My3Sons Unisex beauty parlor and delivered her pitch to the owner.
“We’re from the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services, and we’re here to promote a free text messaging service for expecting and new mothers called Text4Baby,” she said to a room full of women having their hair done. “It gives tips on what prenatal vitamins to take, what foods to avoid and when your baby is due for check-ups. Would you be willing to help us out?”
The salon’s owner happily agreed to post the Text4Baby signs and display referral cards next to the register.
“This is an excellent opportunity for GW students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in a real-life setting to create change in the area where they are living,” said Ms. Dolinsky, who after graduation hopes to work in program planning and management at community-level nonprofits.
Erin Burdette, a SPHHS graduate student and PHSA community service chair, has organized a poster contest for SPHHS students. Students have submitted promotional posters for Text4Baby, and the winning poster will be dispensed throughout the D.C. community.
Ms. Burdette said she hopes to see the SPHHS day of service continue for years to come focusing on various areas in public health.
“SPHHS students are very special, and many consider service to be central to public health,” said Dr. Vyas, who just last week received a Morton A. Bender Teaching Award from the university. “This partnership has given students a wonderful opportunity to create new ways for Text4Baby to engage the community with their mobile health service.”