Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

Women’s and Children’s Health Research Conference
Clayton Hall
December 10, 2010

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I’m really happy to be here for the DHSA Women’s and Children’s Health Research Conference.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I helped inaugurate the Delaware Cardiovascular Research Center, a key component of this Alliance. And I have to say how thrilled I am by the rapid progress we’re making in joining our assets and expertise to better serve the people of Delaware, and to influence clinical practice and policy on a national scale.

It’s exactly what we came together to do, and I think we’re delivering on our promise to Delawareans and to the larger health sciences community. And so, of course, I’m equally happy to be joined by the leadership of the DHSA partner institutions: Tom Ferry, Bob Laskowski, and Bob Barchi.

With a lunch line-up like this, I can’t imagine a clearer signal that women’s and children’s health matters in Delaware; that it’s a critical area of focus for us; and that we expect our efforts to transform research and delivery. In fact, women’s and children’s health was one of the areas we identified for special emphasis when we formed the Alliance nearly two years ago.

It coincided with—maybe even predated—a high-profile global focus on the issue. This fall, the UN launched its Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health in an effort to save 16 million women and children worldwide over the next five years. And while the global initiative looks mainly at the state of maternal and child health in developing nations—and rightly so—I know we all agree that there’s much to be done in this developed nation, much to be done right here in Delaware.

If you look at just a few of Delaware’s maternal and child health priorities, you see a statistical landscape that should concern any of us: infant mortality, preterm birth, and low birth-weight; obesity among children and teens, and among women of childbearing age; the occurrence of developmental delay; and disparities in health indicators and healthcare access among families of children with special needs.

But in these same indicators, you also see a state mobilizing to address very serious problems in a data-based, methodical—and collaborative—way. And I’m thrilled that this Alliance is an important piece of this collaboration; that we will contribute to the knowledge base on best practices for improving women’s and children’s health in Delaware; that we’ll ramp up our research and our commitment to better access and better care; and that we’ll apply our collective capacity for innovation to re-imagine the needs of this community and how we come together to serve it.

Every day, I see this innovative capacity at the University of Delaware—in the interdisciplinary research and education we’re undertaking in women’s and children’s health.

For instance, Cole Galloway in our Department of Physical Therapy is part of a team that’s identified an early marker for autism—infants’ infrequent gazing at other people, when not prompted to do so. If validated, the marker could mean we deliver interventions far earlier for children with autism.

Cole’s also working with Sunil Agrawal in our Department of Mechanical Engineering on a robotic power chair that offers freeing mobility to infants and toddlers with disabilities. What they gain is the ability to play and socialize and learn unimpeded. And that’s incredibly powerful.

In fact, Roberta Golinkoff in our Department of Education is working across the nation promoting the power of play in advancing children’s development and learning.

Christopher Modlesky in our Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology is working with doctors at Nemours to investigate the use of a vibration platform to build bone density in children with brittle bone disease.

Bethany Hall-Long in our Department of Nursing is the PI on a 20-year study of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the U.S.

And Lindsey Palkovitz, a graduate student in our Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition, is implementing HIV and sex education programs in rural Kenyan villages, where the marginalization of women is culturally entrenched.

Obviously, this is just a small sample of our current projects, and we’re thrilled to have so many resources and so much talent focused on women’s and children’s health. (It’s also great to see this focus in the two pilot projects funded through the latest round of DHSA grants.)

The importance of our mission is obvious. And it’s universal. The reasons we invoke for securing maternal and child health in developing countries are the very same reasons we must invest in their health right here.

There’s the moral imperative, of course—it’s the right thing to do. But there’s also the fact that it builds stable and productive communities. That it reduces poverty and stimulates economic growth. That it’s cost-effective. That it helps populations that are too-often vulnerable realize their basic human rights.

Women and children are central to family, to community, to security and stability. We owe it to them and to ourselves not only to close wide and persistent race- and wealth-based gaps in care, but to elevate the quality of care that all women and children in Delaware receive.

It’s not just good policy and sound investment. It’s equity. It’s humanity.

I thank you all for coming, and for committing to the mission.

Thank you.

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