Preconception Peer Educators Program
By Teddy Owusu
Program Coordinator, Office of Minority Health Resource Center
In May 2007, the Office of Minority Health (OMH), of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched A Healthy Baby Begins with You – a national campaign to raise awareness about infant mortality – as one of our efforts to end health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. The campaign was a huge success and the OMH began receiving requests from all over the country for more events and distribution of materials.
Amid the positive responses and increased awareness, OMH partners – communities, organizations and health departments began to ask "what more can be done?"
The answer lay within the community and the youth therein. OMH retooled its approach from the A Healthy Baby Begins with You initiative toward a younger audience, targeting men and women earlier in their lives. By instilling healthy behaviors and health consciousness in a younger population, the OMH believed that this education would develop healthy habits and that when practiced, these habits would effectively reduce the rates of infant and maternal mortality.
OMH charged its resource center staff with the task of engaging the college age population, to enlist students as peer educators and health ambassadors to target their peers on and off campus. The decision was based on research indicating that peer counselors were more effective than adult counselors in delivering educational and counseling services to teenage and young adult clients. Studies find that empathy and a perception that peers share similar life experiences are critically important in the success of strategies to change attitudes and behaviors. Thus, peer educators can have an inherent advantage over professionally trained adults in dealing with young adults.
Today the Preconception Peer Educators (PPE) program has been implemented in more than 90 schools across the country. Colleges, communities and universities have established PPE clubs with strong leaders and dedicated bases. Some programs are managed by faculty or community leaders while others are anchored out of state health departments. There are a variety of program models but all working toward the same goal. The Office of Minority Health Resource Center (OMHRC) hosts monthly webinars during the school year, provides material and communications support to each program and certifies peer educators and trainees to support each program in its mission
This past summer, the OMHRC convened its second meeting with the PPE Advisory Council. Together OMHRC and the council – represented by health professionals, faculty members and state health department professionals from all over the country – assembled to set goals, update program curriculum as well as optimize the training, recruiting and sustainability of the PPE program. Now students entering the program will not only learn about the social determinants of health and other information relevant to infant and maternal health but also how to create and sustain a program that will continue to thrive long after they graduate. This school year, the program goal is to create strong leaders that will build lasting programs.
To learn more about Preconception Peer Educators, check out the OMH website or call us at 1-800-444-6472.
District Launches Stronger2gether Initiative to Reduce Infant Mortality Rate
On Oct. 1, 2014, Mayor Vincent C. Gray and officials from the DC Department of Health (DOH) launched a citywide initiative to reduce the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the District – Stronger Together – One City for Healthier Babies. The initiative is a public-private partnership with more than 40 community providers and corporate partners united to improve maternal and child health outcomes throughout the city to address the physical and social determinants of health to reduce preventable infant deaths.
Infant mortality rates are one of the best-known indicators of a community's health status and a reflection of the opportunity to overcome barriers to economic security. "The health of all our mothers and infants reflects the sustained growth and wellness of our great city," said DOH Director Dr. Joxel Garcia. Often the IMR amongst a defined urban community dictates long-term educational achievements and health outcomes.
According to the 2012 Infant Mortality Report, the District IMR was 7.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which was a slight uptick from the 2011 infant mortality rate of 7.4 per 1,000 live births. This means that 74 babies in the District died before reaching their first birthday in the last calendar year reported (2012). Unfortunately, the District IMR is higher than the average rate for the United States at 6.1 and the average of industrialized countries at 5.0.
The District mobilized the Stronger Together initiative to address the perinatal health disparities and improve the overall system of care in the District by connecting expectant mothers to a robust network of prenatal care. It emphasizes communities working together to ensure moms and dads have the best possible chance to have healthy and thriving babies. The program will utilize innovative analytics and best clinical practices to ensure sustainability.
"Stronger2gether will equip government agencies, community providers and corporate partners with the necessary tools to enable collaboration. Together, they will work to address disparities across the social determinants of health and become champions of coordinated care for expecting parents," said Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
The District aims to decrease its IMR to less than five deaths per 1,000 live births by 2020. The expertise and resources from healthcare providers and community-based organizations will help guide a successful program implementation.
The Stronger Together framework includes a sustained approach to community education and stakeholder engagement and six key initiatives to reduce the IMR in the areas of:
- Centering, a type of group or "buddy" system for prenatal care
- Safe sleep
- Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT)
- Smoking cessation
- Use of 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-P), a synthetic form of progesterone that has been shown to reduce the recurrence of certain preterm births
- Highly efficient and coordinated patient-engagement services
The DC Department of Health hopes Stronger Together can serve as a model for other urban communities across the United States in reducing infant mortality and foster a stronger system of health equity. This initiative will help address the disparities and ensure every baby in DC has a chance to be healthy.
Visit strongertogetherdc.com for more information about the initiative and how you can get involved.