Researcher Lenka Benova receives MARCH Career Re-entry Fellowship

In October, the MARCH Centre awarded a £30,000 career re-entry fellowship to LSHTM researcher Lenka Benova. The fellowship has been made possible by a generous donation by The Millby Foundation, a private charitable foundation.


by Lenka Beňová (@lenkabenova)

All over the globe, women are warned that their lives will never be the same after they become mothers. Some of the challenges and changes relate to the new joys and new responsibilities that go along with caring for their children. Women also naturally expect some physical changes to follow pregnancy and childbirth. However, they might be less prepared to experience some of the painful, debilitating and often embarrassing consequences of becoming a mother, such as urinary incontinence, tears, uterine prolapse, painful sex, mastitis, and many others (a recent publication has identified 121 such conditions). Some of these conditions are preventable with good quality care during delivery, others resolve shortly after birth without medical intervention, others yet might be incapacitating but so common that women in some contexts consider them to be normal. What they all have in common, however, is that much work remains to be done to understand their prevalence/incidence (including issues related to their measurement), care-seeking patterns and outcomes, and effects on the lives of women, their children and families in the short- and long-term.

As a new mother and a scientist working on maternal health in low- and middle-income countries, I have been fortunate enough to receive the first MARCH Career Re-Entry Fellowship, which will support me over a period of one year to pursue research on the topic of maternal morbidity (technically defined as by WHO “any health condition attributed to and/or complicating pregnancy and childbirth that has a negative impact on the woman’s wellbeing and/or functioning).

I will focus on maternal morbidity among adolescent mothers, who in many respects are particularly physiologically and socially vulnerable, and will potentially suffer from such negative lifelong impacts on their health and the health of their future children. In 2015, 19.4 million births occurred to adolescents between 10 and 19 years old, nearly all in low- and middle-income contexts. Maternal causes are the second most important cause of death among 15-19 year-old girls globally. Young adolescents are more likely to experience obstructed labour and fistula, particularly during the first childbirth. In most countries, adolescent births are concentrated among the poorest, most rural populations, presenting an additional challenge in ensuring quality antenatal, delivery and postpartum care to prevent and treat maternal morbidity.

I plan to use my background in health-seeking behaviour to pursue two lines of research, with a special focus on countries of South/Southeast Asia.

  1. Understanding the context of adolescent maternal morbidity: Secondary data analysis of the Demographic and Health Surveys and maternal morbidity datasets to understand the extent of adolescent childbearing, health-seeking for pregnancy and childbirth, and postpartum care and behaviours.
  2. Primary data collection in collaboration with colleagues in a Southeast Asian (soon to be confirmed) to understand adolescent maternal morbidity and related health-seeking behaviours.

During the period of this Fellowship I will continue being based at the MARCH Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the ideal place for such cross-cutting research with a wealth of experts and expertise on the areas of maternal, newborn and adolescent health.