By Jody Taylor
Saba Masho, M.D., associate professor of Epidemiology and Community Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology, says it is all about the communities we serve. Her work with Richmond Healthy Start is centered upon a goal of reducing poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight and premature delivery, among African-American women.
Masho has worked on the Richmond Healthy Start initiative since 2003. Healthy Start is a federally funded program designed to provide care to low-income pregnant women. The services include screening, referral and comprehensive case management that encompass home visitation programs. She first became involved in the Healthy Start program as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Oakland Healthy Start project allowed her to understand issues surrounding racial disparities in perinatal health. Additionally, it provided her the opportunity to witness the complexity of this important public health problem. She learned that there are so many unanswered questions, which led her to focus her research in maternal and child health. She says one of the most important problems faced by public health professionals is the lack of evidence-based practices to guide interventions.
The project allowed her to work with stakeholders, including patients, providers and researchers. Most importantly, she says, the project allowed her to work with underserved communities who are in need of services. It is clear Masho enjoys working with the community.
“I wanted to be involved in community-based work – that has been my passion for a very long time,” she said. “I wanted to work with mothers and children. Clearly, they are vulnerable, underserved and voiceless, and I have always wanted to be a part of the solution and engage in the area of health service research, policy evaluation.”
Moving to Richmond provided her with the opportunity to work with the Richmond Healthy Start initiative. “After completing my doctoral work, it made it very natural to continue with initiative in Richmond,” she said. “The project opened doors to work with communities.”
Her research questions revolve around relevant areas identified by community partners, including patients and providers. She believes that communities and providers are in need of evidence-based practices to inform effective interventions.
“For instance, there once was a recommendation that women should gain as much weight as possible to reduce poor birth outcome,” said Masho. “This was regardless of the women’s prepregnancy weight. It is only recently that we have learned that the weight gain should depend on the prepregnancy weight of the mother.”
In general, infant mortality and perinatal disparities are complex issues that require the collaboration of multidisciplinary sectors.
“The whole idea is to bring different partners together,” she said. “This is not something one particular agency could address. It is really a collective approach. To successfully improve outcomes, it is imperative that we engage the community.”
About VCU and the VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 222 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-six of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.