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OB-GYN faculty member working to improve global health

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An Indiana University School of Medicine faculty member is taking her work overseas to provide obstetric and gynecologic care for women in Kenya.

Caitlin Bernard, MD, joined IU School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017 as an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. She spends 3 months out of each year in Kenya, working to improve women’s health through the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) program, which is a collaboration among several universities, led by IU School of Medicine.

“My overall theme is working to improve access to contraception,” Bernard said, “especially for women in particularly vulnerable situations.”

After completing her residency at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, Bernard spent 1 year in Kenya as a team leader for AMPATH. She returned to the United States to complete a fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, before joining IU School of Medicine.

Caitlin Bernard, MD with research coordinator Christabell Omukagah and family planning clinic nurse Gratia Khaemba at the Chronic Disease Family Planning Clinic in Kenya.

She travels to Kenya for two 6-week-long trips each year. One of her current projects is developing a new strategy of working with community health volunteers to provide urine pregnancy tests to improve linkages to pregnancy care, contraception and overall reproductive health care for Kenyan women.

“That’s part of our population health and community strategy, which is moving away from the hospital and into the community,” Bernard said, “especially for women who have a difficult time accessing care because they live far away or they’re not able to travel.”

Bernard and others in AMPATH are also researching ways to improve contraception and family planning care for women with cardiovascular disease and HIV, specifically looking at interactions between HIV anti-retroviral medications and finding out how that could change the effectiveness of different contraceptive methods.

“We have our main hospital where we work in a semi-urban area and then we have a big network of clinics all throughout western Kenya,” Bernard said. “Within those HIV clinics, our goals from the reproductive health side are to improve the prevention of maternal to child transmission of HIV as well as accessibility for comprehensive reproductive health services including contraception.”

While in Kenya, Bernard also works with medical students and residents from both Kenya and North America to teach them more about global health issues and strategies.

“We’re really trying to engage medical students and residents who are interested in global health to be able to do rotations in Kenya,” Bernard said. “We have medical students and residents from here who are able to rotate there and we host two residents from Kenya here so they can get some extra learning that will allow them to bring some of the lessons back to Kenya to strengthen their health program.”

Bernard is also bringing the knowledge and research gained in Kenya to find new ways to reach patients in Indiana who might not otherwise seek care.

“In Kenya, we need to reach out to women in the community where they are, as opposed to expecting that they’re going to come in for care, and it’s the same thing here,” Bernard said.

She and other faculty members are targeting the state’s high infant and maternal mortality rates, especially for those who don’t have access to care, by utilizing community health workers, women’s health groups, SMS messaging and community health centers.

“I think the fact that we’re all coming together and starting to talk about it and starting to figure out where we might be able to put care programs together, train providers who need to be taking care of patients and then layering research on top of that so we can understand and provide evidence for programs—that will be effective in addressing these issues.”

Caitlin Bernard, MD is an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at IU School of Medicine. Learn more about IU School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology global health research and clinical care.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Christina Griffiths

As a communications coordinator with the Office of Strategic Communications, Christina develops and implements strategic communications plans and projects for internal and external audiences. Before joining IU School of Medicine, Christina worked as an a...