MARCH-ing forward from 2016: a message from the Centre Director

by Professor Joy Lawn, Director of the MARCH Centre (@joylawn)


Joy Lawn with Tanzanian colleagues and their healthy newborn girl in Dar es Salaam. © Sarah Moxon, Nov 2016

Joy Lawn with Tanzanian colleagues and their healthy newborn girl in Dar es Salaam. © LSHTM ENAP Metrics Team, Nov 2016

2016 was billed as a year of change from the perspective of global development, transitioning from the MDG-era to the SDG framework for the next 15 years. However, none of us (or the pollsters) predicted what a tumultuous year this would be for national-level changes globally with Brexit, Trump, and a wave of shock elections around the world. Refugees are at the highest levels since the last world war and yet sink quietly with limited media compared to in 2015.

On a personal note, this was also a tumultuous year for me. since my husband and soulmate of 28 years died of a brain tumour. Steve was also a professor at the School and I am deeply grateful to all of you and the leadership at the School for your support and sympathy at this time. I have not replied to all the kind cards and emails, but each one has lifted me and the family. I have found that LSHTM is not just an award-winning university, but also a community that cares.

What will 2017 hold for us as the MARCH Centre with over 200 scientists working on the health of women, children and adolescents?

During 2017 we will work together on a research strategy around our three MARCH Themes of Adolescents, Births and Children. We will work to future cast our science to be relevant to the reality of improving health especially for the poorest families. In this new SDG era we need even more focus on science to inform aims of the UNSGs global strategy:

Survive: to end the 9 million preventable deaths of women, newborns, children and stillbirths

Thrive: to improve health and development through the lifecourse especially child development outcomes, and the health of all adolescents and especially young women

Transform: to understand and address the drivers of ill health including violence against women.

We will map the more than 90 studies ongoing in over 100 countries to assess strengths, and also opportunities where we can intentionally target more multi-disciplinary work, including beyond our usual boundaries in health, for example with education and environmental science. It would also be helpful to list some areas we may choose not to prioritise research on!

A crucial need is more strategic focus and funding for developing research and technical leadership for women’s and children’s health. Our successful MOOC with more than 19000 participants around the world is being updated, but we need to go deeper and have more opportunities for PhDs and longer term mentoring.

We welcome new members or anyone in the School working on women, children and adolescent health who wants to get more involved. We are especially delighted to have a very active set of MSc and PhD students and welcome ideas from you on what events and inputs you would value.

If 2016 was a year of nation-shattering results, then 2017 could be a year of global development leadership shattering results. The WHO Director General elections will climax in May and the process is semi-transparent. By then the leaders of both World Bank and UNICEF could be announced – both can be appointed unilaterally by President Trump.

In a “post-truth” “no expert” world, the voice of science and data, and the work that we all do, will be needed more than ever to accelerate change for the world’s most vulnerable, and to ensure that we do not lose ground.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas season – and strength to us all for 2017 and beyond.