Washington University receives $1.6 million Gates Foundation grant

Public Health; Research

Washington University in St. Louis has received a two-year, $1.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Wolfgang Munar, MD, associate director for Global Social Policy at the Brown School’s Social System Design Lab and associate director of the Institute for Public Health’s Global Health Center, is the project’s primary investigator.

The grant money will be used to test a novel methodology that will measure the social structures that enhance or limit adoption of modern contraceptives in rural Ethiopia.

“This project tackles several interrelated questions,” Munar said. “First, we want to know whether a social network analysis (SNA) methodology can result in valid measurements of the adoption of modern contraceptives.

“Second, we want to test whether or not this methodology provides data that can be used for measuring family program performance as well as to improve the quality of design of future policies and programs.

“Finally, we will use user-centered design to ensure that the methods we develop are attractive to the intended end-users: family planning practitioners in Ethiopia and other developing countries,” Munar said.

The project, which will be implemented jointly with George Washington University, Northwestern University and Jimma University in Ethiopia, expects to deliver a fully tested and validated prototype that fulfills two main

“Traditionally, family planning programs in developing countries use Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to measure progress in access and to develop estimates of use of modern contraceptives,” Munar said.

“There are two problems with that approach. The first is that as programs expand reach into districts and villages, governments and funders need to know whether behavior change interventions really work. DHS can help to some extent to acquire such data, but the cost of such approaches at district levels can quickly become prohibitive.

“Also, in order to understand behavior change at the local level, we need to move beyond data about individual adoption and also measure collective behavioral change,” he said. “For this, SNA and agent-based modeling (ABM) are outstanding methodologies. Therefore, in this program we will test the extent to which a social network analysis approach can be cost-effective and, also, provide accurate estimates of village-level adoption of modern contraception.”

Munar is currently working on the development of a large-scale research program that applies methods like system dynamics and social network analysis to inform evaluation and policy designs that address complex global challenges that fuel inequity and policy under-performance at the interface of gender, agriculture, food and nutrition systems.

Additionally, he works on improving primary health care systems performance in areas of maternal, neonatal and child health.