Malnutrition, unregistered children, and maternal health policy the focus of student fieldwork

Students Vanessa Brizuela, Dr.P.H. ’18, Alexandra Bellows, S.M. ’17, and Amiya Bhatia M.P.H. ’15, S.D. ’20/ photos (1 & 3) by Sarah Sholes, photo (2) Courtesy of Alexandra Bellows

2 min read

From helping to launch a nutrition program in Tanzanian villages to learning how the World Health Organization (WHO) develops global policies, eight Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health students spent this past summer getting a taste of real-world public health. They all were awarded travel grants from the Maternal Health Task Force, part of the School’s Women and Health Initiative, to support internships in countries including Brazil, Nigeria, and Pakistan. They recently shared research findings and spoke about their experiences.

Severe malnutrition is the third highest cause of death for children under five in Tanzania, and stunting (diminished growth in children) is estimated to be around 35 percent, according to Alexandra Bellows, S.M. ’17. She spent the summer in Tanzania working on a project that aims to prevent malnutrition in children and their mothers through better dietary diversity.

Many rural women in Tanzania maintain small home farms, so Bellows and her fellow researchers at the Homestead Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative—a collaboration between Harvard Chan School, the Ifakara Health Institute, and Sokoine University of Agriculture, and part of the School’s Africa Health Partnership—wanted to see if the addition of new crops would improve their health and their children’s health.

The program provided vegetable seeds at no cost to participating households and will monitor their health for one year. The hope is that women and children’s height, weight, body composition, and blood tests will show signs of better health at the end of the study period.