On World Prematurity Day in November 2015, Linda Franck (far right), co-principal investigator for the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative California, moderates a panel on community-driven research, which gives those being studied a voice in research funding decisions. From left to right: parent Brittany Lothe, parent Scott Bolick, UCSF Intensive Care Nursery nurse Robin Bisgaard, parent Hope Williams and parent Schyneida Williams (photo by Elisabeth Fall).
April 2016 • By Andrew Schwartz

In 2015, when a group of some 60 UC San Francisco researchers and clinicians sat down to tackle the epidemic of preterm birth, the lives of 15 million children were at stake.

That’s how many children are born premature (before 37 weeks’ gestation) each year worldwide. One million die within the first 28 days of life, and preterm birth is the largest killer of children under 5. Those infants who do survive are at considerably increased risk for a lifetime of health challenges – from neurological disorders to obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Yet despite the devastating impact – which disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities – in recent years there has been little improvement in slowing the rate of preterm birth.

Fortified by a $100 million promise from philanthropists Lynne and Marc Benioff and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UCSF team spent a year planning its effort. Team members cast a wide net and focused intently on forging collaborations and listening closely to other health systems, community leaders, educators, civic officials and, most important, women in disadvantaged communities who have experienced or are at risk for preterm birth.

As the year progressed, the group split into two separate but coordinated initiatives, with the Gates Foundation funding the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative East Africa (PTBi-EA) and the Benioffs funding the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative California (PTBi-CA). Both groups have created ambitious five-year plans that involve research to make new discoveries as well as to more effectively implement existing best practices for preventing and treating preterm birth.

“In California, our long-term goal is to eliminate the disparities in care that lead to dramatically different rates of prematurity – and to improve the outcomes of babies born preterm,” says UCSF School of Nursing’s Linda Franck, who is co-principal investigator for PTBi-CA and the Jack and Elaine Koehn Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing.

How PTBi-CA arrived at its plan and what that plan entails present a case study in blending humility and hubris to tackle an enormously complex public health challenge.

The Dean's Blog | David Vlahov

When President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 inmates in March 2016, it was the most visible element in a flurry of prison reform activities aimed at relieving overcrowded prisons and finding alternatives for nonviolent offenders.

Among those activities: The federal prison system has been releasing thousands of individuals who received long sentences for low-level, drug-related, nonviolent crimes. Sentencing reform bills are making their way through Congress. The Releasing Aging People in Prison (RAPP) project – an advocacy campaign aimed at helping older, low-level offenders – is gaining momentum.

This is important and humane work, but achieving the desired goal will not be easy. 

Featured Articles

April 2016
Nursing in Prison – Doctoral student Douglas Long confronts the challenges of providing quality health care to inmates in San Quentin, one of America’s most famous prisons.
April 2016
Novel Doula Training for Incarcerated Women and Those at Risk Expands and Grows – A UCSF collaboration gives women at risk for incarceration hope for their futures. In return, they provide essential birthing services to incarcerated women and those in need in Alameda County.
March 2016
Diabetes Camp a Life-Changing Experience for Families and Clinicians – A partnership between UCSF and the nonprofit organization DYF (Diabetes Youth Families) offers families and clinicians in training a unique opportunity to learn together.
March 2016
Engaging Communities: A Conversation with Catherine Waters, Sally Bates Endowed Chair in Health Disparities – Catherine Waters has spent her entire career seeking evidence-based approaches for erasing the inequities in health and health care that plague underserved communities. Being named the first Sally Bates Endowed Chair in Health Disparities acknowledges her exemplary work and gives her a platform to expand it.
March 2016
Bates Endowed Chair Strengthens Emphasis on Addressing Health Disparities – By creating the Sally Bates Endowed Chair in Health Disparities, pioneering neurosurgeon Ernest Bates honors the memory of his mother and the value of nurses and nurse scientists in the essential effort to erase health inequities.