October 4, 2016

The World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Research Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health, based in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, has been awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Population Affairs. The WHO Collaborating Center and JSI Research and Training Institute Inc. will serve as the new Family Planning National Training Center for Service Delivery Improvement.

The cooperative agreement award, to be administered by JSI, will total about $4 million per year for up to four years. The WHO Collaborating Center’s subcontract is an award of about $1.5 million per year to fund the Family Planning Center’s implementation and improvement activities and assure that its activities are based upon the best science, including the rapidly evolving field of implementation science.

Dr. Herbert Peterson

Dr. Herbert Peterson

The WHO Collaborating Center, led by Herbert Peterson, MD, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School and of obstetrics and gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine, was selected in 2015 as an academic hub for implementation science efforts in support of the U.N. Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.

The grant will help the new Family Planning Center support grantees in the U.S. Title X family planning system as they strive to improve service quality at more than 4,000 sites. In 2014, those sites provided services to more than 4 million women and men, 91 percent of whom live below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Need for family planning services is critical, as the unintended pregnancy rate in the U.S. – 45 percent – remains high, compared with other developed nations.

“Our WHO Collaborating Center’s mission is to develop and apply the sciences needed for building sustainable capacity to support implementation efforts at scale globally and locally – and this award is a wonderful opportunity to do that,” said Peterson, former chair of the department of maternal and child health, who will lead the UNC implementation and improvement efforts and chair the new Family Planning Center’s leadership council.

“This award recognizes the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s leadership role in the new field of implementation science,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School, “and Dr. Peterson is the ideal choice to lead UNC’s contribution to this groundbreaking project.”

The new Family Planning Center brings together an interdisciplinary team from across the UNC campus, including the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), which is based in UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

“This is another successful collaboration between NIRN and the WHO Collaborating Center, which have worked together on a series of leadership efforts in implementation science, including UNC’s first course on implementation science for global health,” said Dean Fixsen, PhD, who will lead the NIRN’s contribution to the team.

Fixsen is senior scientist at Frank Porter Graham, research professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School, co-founder of NIRN and current president of the board of directors of the Global Implementation Initiative.

The UNC team also will include members from North Carolina State University, led by A. Blanton Godfrey, PhD, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor of Textiles, and former dean of the School of Textiles. Godfrey was co-founder of the National Demonstration Project for Quality Improvement in Health Care,  which became the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). He subsequently served as chair of IHI’s board of directors and is a pioneer in improvement science for health.

“This enhancement of our collaboration with UNC will bring the cutting edge of improvement science and systems science to complement UNC’s implementation science contributions to this important interdisciplinary effort,” Godfrey said.

This award is a key milestone in the WHO Collaborating Center’s efforts to enhance the health and well-being of mothers, babies and children globally and locally. It builds on an innovative approach developed by the Collaborating Center and its United Nations partners and emphasizes the importance of effectively combining the forces of academics, nongovernmental organizations, providers and policy makers to achieve maximum impact in improving health for women and children. (See an article by Peterson and colleagues, “Preventing Maternal and Newborn Deaths Globally,” published in September 2012 in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology [PDF].

The WHO Collaborating Center’s work through this award will be a major contribution toward assuring that public health innovations reach their intended beneficiaries.

“For far too long, we’ve had a large gap between research and practice,” Peterson said. “Implementation science will help us to close that gap and assure that our discoveries are delivered to those we serve.”


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

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