March 30, 2009
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received more than $22 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a new project that aims to improve the reproductive health of the urban poor in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Dr. Ilene Speizer

Dr. Ilene Speizer

Ilene Speizer, PhD, research associate professor in the department of maternal and child health in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is one of the two leaders of the endeavor.

The project, Measurement, Learning and Evaluation for the Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, will be run by UNC’s Carolina Population Center. Working with the center on the project are the African Population and Health Research Center, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C.

With the ranks of the world’s urban poor growing, so, too, is the need for services addressing maternal and infant mortality, family planning and other such issues often faced by people living in poverty. In 2008, for the first time ever, the urban share of the world’s population reached 50 percent and researchers predict nearly all future global population growth will occur in towns and cities in developing countries. In particular, urban populations in Africa and Asia are expected to double between 2000 and 2030.

The Measurement, Learning and Evaluation (MLE) project will help identify which urban reproductive health approaches and interventions are most effective and likely to have the biggest impact. Two Carolina Population Center fellows are heading the project. David Guilkey, Ph.D., Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Economics in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, is the principal investigator and project director, and Speizer is co-principal investigator and technical deputy director.

“It is exciting that the MLE project is being undertaken in parallel with the design and development of the foundation’s programs,” Guilkey said. “This permits the project to identify which approaches are the most effective for the urban poor and shape future family planning and reproductive health programs for ministries of health, municipal governments, donors and foundations serving the poor in Sub-Saharan African and South Asia.”

“People living in urban slums have the least access to sanitation and health services, including family planning and reproductive health programs” said Dr. Bitra George, country director for Family Health International in India, which is responsible for the Gates-funded Urban Reproductive Health Initiative in India, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh and other areas. “The MLE project will partner with the foundation’s initiative to determine how to improve the quality and accessibility of family planning and reproductive health services for the most vulnerable urban poor.”

Working with health-care providers and researchers in several countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the project will focus on three main tasks:

  • serving as the central technical resource for local efforts to monitor and evaluate programs in countries where the foundation is supporting urban reproductive health initiatives;
  • identifying and documenting evidence-based interventions and best practices for providing health services to the urban poor, and sharing information globally about promising approaches with policy makers, program managers and researchers; and
  • building the skills and professional capacity of countries and regions to undertake rigorous measurement and evaluation of population, family planning and integrated reproductive health activities targeted at poor and vulnerable urban populations.

The grant runs for six years. In the first year, researchers will focus on getting the project off the ground in India and on developing tools for the wider project as it expands.


Note: Ilene Speizer can be reached at (919) 966-7411 or

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or


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