Student strives to decrease maternal mortality in Kenya

By Ada Zhang
Staff Writer

For Richmond senior Jolene Damoiseaux, a thesis was more than an Honors College requirement. Damoiseaux turned her thesis into Mothers On the Move, a program that provides pregnant women on the Nyakach plateau in Kenya with transportation to the Sigoti Health Centre.

Damoiseaux’s interest in medical research began her sophomore year in a research and design class taught by Dr. Lisa Baker, clinical faculty member in the Honors program, Damoiseaux said.

At that time, Damoiseaux said she started looking up maternal mortality statistics and gaining interest in the subject.

“I started doing research on maternal mortality and asking bigger questions like why women die from preventable complications related to child birth, why that contributes to half a million women dying each year and why motherhood can be associated with so much pain and suffering,” Damoiseaux said. “That’s when it became a lot more.”

The following summer, Damoiseaux journeyed to Kenya with a group of other Baylor students as a part of the Straw To Bread organization.

The Straw To Bread organization takes a group of students who are interested in global health to Kenya each year.

The organization’s mission is to help the community on the Nyakach plateau resolve public health issues.

The trip ordinarily lasts two weeks, but Damoiseaux said she stayed an additional six weeks to collect data on maternal health after other students left.

“My research question was, ‘What are the barriers to maternal health services in Kenya?” Damoiseaux said.

Damoiseaux said she had an eight-page survey with more than 400 questions for pregnant women.

A translator was present at the interviews, which were extensive and lasted more than an hour each, she said.

During the spring of her junior year, Damoiseaux analyzed the data she had collected and concluded that transportation was the main barrier to maternal health services for pregnant women living on the Nyakach plateau.

“It wasn’t that they were ignorant or didn’t have desire to go,” Damoiseaux said. “They just didn’t have the means to get there. These women would only start transportation once they were in labor.”

It is a three-mile walk to the health clinic, and oftentimes, these women would not make it in time for the delivery, Damoiseaux said.

After defending her thesis last spring, Damoiseaux said she had a desire to bring her research back to Kenya and provide a service to help pregnant women deliver healthy babies.

With a $1,500 grant from the Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative, Damoiseaux started and is continuing to fund Mothers On the Move.

If a cesarian section is needed, Damoiseaux said, the program provides additional transportation from the Sigoti Health Center to a different hospital.

Damoiseaux said Mothers On the Move started providing transportation in the middle of June, and in two and a half months, 56 women were transported to the health center, eight of which had to be referred to a different hospital for a C-section.

The Poverty Initiative grant will fund the program for another six months, Damoiseaux said.

She is currently in the process of looking for more donors to sustain the program.

Rosemary Townsend, director of business affairs and community partnerships, is a member of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative advisory board and describes Damoiseaux’s work as “extraordinary.”

Townsend said Damoiseaux’s work is an example of how important it is for students to apply their research.

“Putting theory into practice gives a student a context for the types of things they might be doing in the future,” Townsend said. “It gives you the opportunity to see the face of those that you’re serving. I think it also helps you understand, depending on where you are in your studies, that you haven’t learned everything you need to know to move forward in your profession.”

Damoiseaux said research changed her by giving her a new perspective on her education.

“The statistics weren’t numbers,” Damoiseaux said. “They were faces of friends I’d made.”