GAPPS 2015 Annual Letter
The Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s, is pleased to share its annual update for what was a busy and productive 2015. We launched new programs and expanded existing ones, we convened leading organizations and researchers, and we even benefitted from a fundraiser at a brewery – all in an effort to advance preterm birth and stillbirth research and programming.
One of the most important things we did this year was launch our new 5-year strategic plan. Our three key objectives in the 2015-2019 period are: Advance preterm birth research, accelerate evidence into action, and advance stillbirth as a global health agenda. We’re excited for the future and have high hopes for reducing the global burden of preterm birth and stillbirth.
Please read on for highlights from 2015, and as always, thank you for journeying with us on our quest to make every birth a healthy birth.
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Every Preemie – Scaling, Catalyzing, Advocating, Learning, Evidence-driven (SCALE)
Every Preemie – SCALE is a USAID cooperative agreement with GAPPS, Project Concern International, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Its mission is to provide practical, catalytic, and scalable approaches to expand the uptake of preterm birth and low birth weight interventions in 23 USAID priority countries around the world. This year, Every Preemie launched country profiles for prevention and care of preterm and low birth weight infants in each of the priority countries. The profiles will be disseminated in each country via key informants and will be used to ignite dialogue in-country and catalyze action around preterm birth and low birth weight within maternal and newborn health programming.
Preventing Preterm Birth Initiative
Results of research from the Preventing Preterm Birth initiative (PPB), a Grand Challenge in Global Health funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by GAPPS, have begun to identify novel targets for preterm birth prevention that can be used around the world. The PPB also funded its third round of grants this year, this time focused on developing a systems biology approach to investigate the complex biology of preterm birth prevention. Also known as “-omics” biology, systems biology allows researchers to generate and analyze large data sets from biological components like molecules and cells. The goal of the three funded projects is to identify predictive biomarkers and develop interventions to prevent preterm birth.
Click here for a list (pdf) of publications from all GAPPS staff in 2015.
The GAPPS Repository, a biobank of pregnancy specimens and data available to researchers focused on pregnancy and early child health, continues to see impressive growth in specimen and data collections as well as in researchers accessing it for their studies. In 2015, the Repository experienced a more than 200% increase from 2014 in applications from researchers. Additionally, GAPPS continued its collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University and their Multi’Omic Microbiome Study – Pregnancy Initiative, part of the NIH Integrative Human Microbiome Project, which strives to understand the impact of the vaginal microbiome on pregnancy complications, including origins of preterm birth.
The GAPPS Repository also serves as a model for other pregnancy and early childhood research sites, and researchers from around the world are accessing our Standard Operating Procedures for use in their own collections. International PPB sites in Bangladesh and Zambia have leveraged the Repository’s systems for collection and processing of specimens and data, adapting them for use in low- and middle-income settings. Harmonizing data and samples across widespread collection sites makes it easier to compare findings across studies, facilitate new collaborations, and augment a growing collective knowledge to help speed discoveries.
Maternal Immunization Safety Project
Providing vaccinations to pregnant women around the world will help improve maternal, newborn and child health by lowering the frequency of infections, which play a large role in pregnancy and newborn mortality and morbidity worldwide. However, while extensive work has gone into monitoring the safety of vaccines, doing so for immunization programs focused on pregnant women – particularly in low-resource settings – has been limited.
This year, GAPPS received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a strategy for developing systems that monitor and track the safety of maternal immunization programs in low- and middle-income countries, with the ultimate goal of improving survival and health of pregnant women and their newborns. It is expected that the findings and recommendations will be beneficial to developing monitoring systems in higher-resource countries as well.
Global Coalition to Advance Preterm birth Research (GCAPR)
GAPPS is co-founder and Secretariat of GCAPR, a coalition of organizations that fund maternal, newborn and child health research, created for the purpose of improving visibility, investment, and information sharing to accelerate preterm birth research efforts. Members convened for the annual meeting in July in Washington, D.C., where new members were introduced and new research efforts and funding opportunities were discussed. We also launched the GCAPR website, www.gcapr.org, and you can read about some of GCAPR’s initial projects here.
Raising the visibility of preterm birth and stillbirth
GAPPS continues to lead efforts to raise awareness of preterm birth and stillbirth through a variety of mediums. We wrote a call for country commitments to preterm birth research which was submitted at the World Health Assembly. In the news media, GAPPS provided expert comment for many high-profile news pieces, including in the Washington Post and in the Toronto Star. And GAPPS staff presented at numerous meetings and conferences, including the inaugural Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Mexico City.
Additionally, we have begun to see more attention to the topic of stillbirth, which has traditionally lagged behind preterm birth in visibility. Several members of the GAPPS team have been working this year preparing for the launch of a series of articles on stillbirth in the Lancet journal. Our researchers have been part of the writing and advisory teams, and our communications team has been busy developing messages and social media plans to support the launch on 19 January. We hope that this series will serve as a catalyst to raise awareness of the need for research and bring more funders to this topic.
Thank you to all of you who partner with us and support us on this journey. Every year, more than 1 million babies die from complications of preterm birth and 2.6 million are stillborn, making preterm birth and stillbirth the two greatest causes of death for children under 5. It takes partnership and commitment from researchers, funders, parents, advocates, and many more to reduce the global burden, and we believe that is exactly what is happening.
A special thank you to the members of the Stillborn, Still Loved Guild and the Tiny Footprints Guild. They continue to find new and creative ways to raise awareness of the problems of stillbirth and preterm birth and raise funds to support GAPPS.
We’re excited for 2016 and a number of big projects that are already underway. We are grateful for your partnership and support, and look forward to working with you this year to make every birth a healthy birth.
Craig E. Rubens, MD, PhD
Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS)