In global regions disrupted by war, poverty, and natural disaster, newborn survival is a challenge, with nearly all of childhood deaths occurring in the first 28 days of life. Preventing those deaths—many related to breathing problems—can be as simple as a bubble CPAP, an inexpensive device that delivers critical pressured air into the lungs of a struggling infant. And connecting those devices with those in need is central to the mission of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) Division of Global Health, which builds partnerships that reduce health disparities and improve the lives of underserved children worldwide.
Brett Nelson, MD, MPH, DTM&H, is a key ambassador for that mission. A neonatologist by training, Dr. Nelson became interested in global health as a teenager, and worked internationally throughout his medical education and residency. When he joined MGH in 2008, he worked with Ronald Kleinman, MD, Chief of Pediatrics, to create the country’s first pediatric global health fellowship. The idea of global-health education, explains Dr. Nelson, is fueled by the understanding that training clinicians in areas where resources are lacking ultimately saves more children than treating them as a visiting physician.
“We try to amplify our impact by training local providers so that, when we leave, they can continue the work,” he says.
Dr. Nelson traveled to war-torn Liberia as the program’s first fellow in 2009, and has also visited South Sudan and Jordan, where he assessed the well-being of young Syrians in refugee camps.
One day in 2009 encapsulates the power of the clinician training model Dr. Nelson espouses. While showing a group of midwives in South Sudan how to help a distressed newborn breathe, a call for help led him to a nearby operating room where a newborn lay blue after birth. Using the same steps he’d demonstrated just minutes before, he warmed and successfully stimulated the child to breathe with a bag-mask device. “That’s the power of this training,” Dr. Nelson says. “People see how effective it is, then they embrace it.”
More on Dr. Nelson’s and the Division’s global health work here.