Katheryne Downes is on a mission to make childbirth safer.
 
In the US, one in three mothers give birth by cesarean section, an overused and often unnecessary practice, Katheryne explains, which has increased by more than 60 percent since 1996. Katheryne, a doctoral candidate in the Maternal and Child Health program in the Department of Family Science, explained that, in addition to the risks associated with any major surgery, cesarean delivery increases risks of breathing difficulties for the newborn and also increases the risk of placental disorders occurring in future pregnancies.
 
Katheryne came to the School of Public Health as an epidemiologist and biostatistician with over five years of experience in clinical research, and a specialty focus in obstetrics and gynecology. The Family Science department “pushed me to be a better researcher,” she says, noting the department’s emphasis on well-rounded training in cultural competence, policy-making and research methodology, and the support she has been given to tailor the program to her professional needs.
 
In 2014, Katheryne was selected as one of 19 young scientists to represent the United States at the prestigious Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Physiology in Germany, which gave her the opportunity to form connections with top researchers from around the world. Katheryne was also one of the first Public Health students to benefit from opportunities created by the partnership between the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park and the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Master of Public Health Program in Baltimore to form a collaborative school of public health.
 
Last year, she took a global health course which gave her perspective on creative solutions to improve birth outcomes. “In the U.S., if a woman in a hospital is experiencing a postpartum hemorrhage, we have ready access to a variety of treatments and medical professionals to save her life, but in a place like rural Pakistan where only 30% of births are attended by any skilled health professional and essential medications are only available to 3.3% of the public market, other strategies were necessary,” she explains. Downes describes how a combination of several innovative programs, including the Lady Health Workers (which trains local young women to provide basic primary health services) and the introduction of prophylactic misoprostol for postpartum hemorrhage (an inexpensive, easy to use medication that requires no refrigeration) has led to significant reductions in the incidence of maternal mortality in Pakistan. "Similarly, we may be able to develop less-expensive, effective ways of improving medical care for women in this country; especially women who lack access to affordable health care,” she says.
 
Published April 21, 2014