Boston University Receives Grant for Global Health Outreach

Contact: Tom Testa, 617/353-2240 |

(Boston) — Boston University’s Center for Global Health and Development (CGHD) has received an $8.5 million, four-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a large-scale neo-natal trial in the African nation of Zambia. BU researchers hope to prove that a simple, inexpensive change in the way newborns are handled can dramatically decrease neo-natal mortality.

“We are grateful for the support of this marvelous project,” said Boston University President Robert A. Brown. “This study is indicative of the quality and impact of the research and outreach that is underway in the Center for Global Health and Development.”

Launched in September of 2009, the CGHD is based at the Boston University School of Public Health where the Center’s core group of researchers holds their academic appointments and whose students participate in a number of the CGHD’s research efforts.

“I’m so pleased to be able to announce this grant,” said Jonathon Simon, the CGHD’s founding director. “For all of the progress that’s been made worldwide in reducing deaths in children, there’s been much less progress for ‘neo-nates,’ meaning the first 28 days of life. We’re hoping to change that.”

Simon’s group, which already has a strong presence in Zambia, is setting out to prove that using an antiseptic wash called chlorhexidine to clean the umbilicus stump of newborns (the small piece of umbilical cord that remains for about a week after the cord is cut at birth) will improve baby survival rates. In the southern province of Zambia where the study will be conducted, traditional ways of handling the umbilicus include everything from leaving it exposed to packing it with mustard oil, or even encasing it in cow dung.

More than 28,000 Zambian women will be recruited for the study. Half of them will use the topical antiseptic daily, and half will care for their newborns in the usual ways. Simon hopes that comparing outcomes will create a powerful argument for health care providers around the world to change the way newborns are handled. Cell phone technology, which has recently arrived in Zambia, will be used to keep in touch with families during this crucial first week of life.

The BU research team will open headquarters in Choma, a small town central to the region of study. If all goes well, newborns could be enrolled in the large-scale effort within six to nine months.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.