CHAMPS 2023 Network Meeting Held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The CHAMPS network met on March 13-17th, 2023 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting brought together 160 participants from 14 countries, including CHAMPS team members from network sites, local health leaders, National Public Health Institute Directors, our Global Partners Board, Senior Program Managers from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other interested partiesThe Ethiopia CHAMPS team from Haramaya University hosted the meeting.

Credit: Emory University, Emory Global Health Institute, CHAMPS

The meeting officially opened with a special message from Her Excellency, Dr. Lia Tadesse Gebremedhin, Minister of Health of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, who spoke to the importance of having a surveillance model like CHAMPS in Ethiopia to gather definitive cause of death data to inform prevention efforts, especially for pregnant women and babies.   

“Identifying causes of mortality is a critical step for designing the right interventions,” said Her Excellency, in an interview following the opening session. “As a country, we have been trying to implement maternal and newborn health surveillance and response at a national level, which usually uses verbal autopsy and other methods. We are continuing to improve it, but programs like CHAMPS that can concretely identify the real cause of death through minimally invasive tests are instrumental for us to design the correct interventions, especially for preventable deaths.”

Welcome addresses were given by CHAMPS Executive Director, Dr. Cynthia Whitney; CHAMPS Ethiopia Site Director, Dr. Nega Assefa; Haramaya University Administration and Students Affairs Vice President, Professor Jaylan Welse; Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Lead Executive of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Dr. Meseret Zelalem; and Dr. Mesay Hailu, Director General of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute. These distinguished leaders welcomed the attendees to Addis Ababa and shared their enthusiasm for this convening in Ethiopia.   

“Children are dying from preventable health conditions including malnutrition, pneumonia, sepsis and other related health conditions. To avert these deaths, we are actively sharing data from CHAMPS Ethiopia at all levels,” said Principal Investigator for CHAMPS Ethiopia, Nega Assefa, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Haramaya University in Harar. “We are identifying serious problems affecting the health of children and pregnant women.  Most importantly, we are finding poor nutrition as a background factor, including a need for more folate in the diet to prevent serious birth defects.”

“When we examine results from all our CHAMPS sites, we find a large burden of stillbirths and deaths in babies shortly after birth that are a result of complications of the pregnancy or delivery.  In many cases, better healthcare for pregnant women would have led to the birth of healthy babies,” said Dr. Cynthia Whitney, Executive Director for CHAMPS. “We are also finding that infections cause many deaths in babies born too early and in infants and children who suffer from poor nutrition; many of these infections are resistant to commonly used antibiotics.  Our goal is to make sure those who shape health programs and policies are aware of what we are learning.”

CHAMPS is now in its 8th year and results for more than 4,500 deaths. This meeting served as an excellent opportunity to reflect on the program’s current priorities, discuss recent findings, and envision efforts to improve child and maternal health. Meeting participants engaged in intensive discussions centered around the network’s findings on maternal and child health over the past eight years. Representatives from each CHAMPS site presented best practices and lessons learned in their investigations of child and maternal mortality and their engagement with the local communities. Meeting participants also engaged in knowledge-sharing sessions. These sessions included group discussions on moving from data to action, quality of care, scientific studies on the CHAMPS platform, minimally invasive tissue sampling and the determination of cause of death process, social autopsy and family follow-up. 

Dr. Raji Tajudeen, Head, Public Health Institutes & Research at Africa Centre for Disease Control (ACDC), also attended the meeting.  ACDC is a specialized technical institution of the African Union that supports policy development across all African member states to detect, prevent and timely respond to disease threats. Dr. Tajudeen acknowledged the importance of CHAMPS work in addressing childhood diseases and causes of death, saying, “CHAMPS data are critical to the ACDC in that they provide new insight on causes of child mortality that helps us guide policy formulation on maternal and child health. The specificity of CHAMPS data helps us to understand exact causes of child deaths and puts a spotlight on child health priorities. In addition, the CHAMPS platform and the expertise within CHAMPS are helping with workforce development on the continent.”   

This meeting provided a wonderful chance for the network to come together to discuss progress, the latest findings, and lessons learned. 

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Credit: CHAMPS

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