The 2023 Tessa Jowell Fellowship for Doctoral Research was awarded to Esias Bedingar, a Ph.D. candidate in Population Health Sciences at the Harvard Chan School whose research will evaluate the impact of scaling up a community-based delivery model of primary healthcare on maternal and child mortality in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Tessa Jowell Fellowship was established in 2019 in honor of the late Baroness Tessa Jowell and her contributions as a founding Advisory Board member of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program, as well as her abiding interest in public health and lifelong commitment to public service. Administered by the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program, the Fellowship supports doctoral research in Africa and is available to students enrolled at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Graduate School of Education, and the Kennedy School.

Esias Bendigar is the fifth recipient of the Fellowship. Originally from Chad, Esias sees a similar situation in the DRC as to that of his home country. “Chad has been through 4 civil wars, which have severely impacted the healthcare system. Although maternal mortality has considerably declined over the past decades, 60% of maternal deaths still occur in fragile, and conflict-affected countries,” he explained. “Like Chad, the DRC, and especially Eastern DRC has been heavily affected by conflict and as a result has one of the worst maternal and child health outcomes in the world.”

The DRC faces a significant challenge to improve maternal, newborn, and child health, with a maternal mortality rate of 473 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 81 per 1,000 live births. Both maternal and child mortality rates can be reduced through evidence-based and low-cost interventions and treatments. Esias’s research proposes to describe the complex nature of interventions aimed at decreasing maternal and child mortality, as well as provide a roadmap of how these interventions should be designed, integrated, and scaled up in conflict-affected countries.

The community-based primary healthcare delivery model of Amani Global Works, a local NGO based in Eastern DRC, could be a potential solution to decreasing maternal and child mortality that could be replicated elsewhere. “I will be evaluating their scale-up to assess its impact on maternal and child health outcomes,” said Esias. “It is my hope that the findings could be shared with the international community to effectively design, integrate, and scale up complex health innovations in high-severity settings.”

Upon completing his degree, Esias hopes to return home to work in government in Chad to facilitate the translation of research into effective policies that can bring about real change.