February 14, 2022
Whether you’re local or global, student or alumni, the Abstract’s weekly news digest will help you stay in the loop with our amazing Gillings School community.
Mhlanga, leader in maternal and child health, passes away in Pretoria
Roland Edgar (Eddie) Mhlanga, MPH, has died in Pretoria, South Africa, at the age of 68. The 1994 graduate of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health was awarded a Master of Public Health degree just days after South Africa, the country of his birth, held its first democratic elections in which people of all races were able to vote.
He came to Chapel Hill with his wife, Lindiwe Mhlanga, MPH, who had been selected as a W.K. Kellogg Scholar at UNC, and both pursued degrees in public health. A desperate need for advanced emergency obstetric, gynecologic and pediatric skills drew him to the field of maternal and child health. He went on to make a great impact, serving as chief director of national health programs in South Africa during a period of sweeping change, especially for women’s health.
“Life is a great gift,” Mhlanga said in a 2008 interview, “and living it right — in harmony with people and the environment — is the greatest opportunity one has.”
Gillings alumna wins federal grant for mHealth evaluation
Cristina Leos, PhD ’19 (health behavior), cofounder and chief executive officer of Real Talk, worked with then student and current faculty member Liz Chen, PhD ’19 (health behavior) to develop the idea for the Real Talk app as a student project at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. A grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families will fund a rigorous evaluation of the app, which uses storytelling to improve adolescent mental, emotional and behavioral health.
Developed under the Innovation Next Accelerator, Real Talk was launched in 2017. Since that time, nearly 30,000 adolescents and young adults have logged on. Driving this popularity is a platform that allows young people to share and read stories on such topics as romantic relationships and mental health. Along with these stories are links to vetted resources to help them navigate related health issues. This new funding will allow Leos to explore the impact of this storytelling approach and potentially reach more people.
“Gillings helped me develop the network and research skills that laid the foundation for our work with Real Talk,” said Leos. “It has been very rewarding to combine my public health training with innovative strategies and new partnerships to support adolescent health.”
Gillings environmental health researchers featured in NIOSH 50th Anniversary Blog Series
The first entry in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 50th Anniversary Blog Series, written by Joan Mazur, PhD, and John Staley, PhD, was recently published on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Staley is the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center’s (NC OSHERC) deputy director and director of the outreach and continuing education programs. Laura Taylor, PhD, 2020 doctoral alumna from the Gillings School and NC OSHERC’s NIOSH trainee, is featured in this first part along with other NIOSH Education and Research Center trainees across the country.
Speizer publishes new study in PLoS One
Ilene Speizer, PhD, professor of maternal and child health, has co-authored a new publication in PLoS One along with David Guilkey, PhD, from the Department of Economics at UNC, titled “The direct and indirect effects of community beliefs and attitudes on postpartum contraceptive method choice among young women ages 15-24 in Nigeria.”
Understanding what factors influence postpartum contraceptive use among young people (ages 15-24 years) in Nigeria is important because this group often has closely spaced and unintended births. Using secondary data gathered for an evaluation of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded initiative designed to increase modern contraceptive use in select urban areas of Nigeria, Speizer and Guilkey’s study team determined the direct and indirect effects of community beliefs and attitudes on postpartum contraceptive method choice of adolescents and young people.
They found that community beliefs and attitudes have important effects on the primary outcome of postpartum contraceptive use. In the results, the study team quantified the size of both direct and indirect effects on postpartum contraceptive method choice using simulations.
The findings from this study can be used to inform programs seeking to increase young people’s postpartum contraceptive use for healthy spacing and timing of births.