'A Healthy Baby Begins with You': UD students educate peers about preconception health
Pictured are, from left, Pat Drake, instructor, program organizers Brittney Jones, Phylicia Lewis and Tiara Goode, and Gail Wade, associate professor.
Delaware State University representatives at the preconception peer education program workshop.
Preconception peer counseling program community ambassadors, from left, Alfie Moss, Gwyn Miller, Karen Hall, Monique Wright and Terry Casson-Ferguson.
Mike Cordrey makes a presentation during the preconception peer counseling program workshop.

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1:10 p.m., March 16, 2011----A preconception peer education program organized by the University of Delaware School of Nursing drew some 30 students and community health ambassadors to the UD campus on March 5 and 12.

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Led by three UD students -- Tiara Goode, Brittney Jones, and Phylicia Lewis -- the comprehensive program included presentations by UD faculty, public health professionals, healthcare providers, and media experts on issues ranging from the causes of infant mortality to the use of social media for community outreach.

The UD program is part of the national “A Healthy Baby Begins with You” campaign, which was launched in 2007 by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health. The campaign is aimed at raising awareness about infant mortality, with an emphasis on the African American community, as part of the OMH's effort to end health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.

Since research has shown that preconception health is one of the most important influences on birth outcomes and maternal and infant health, the OMH recently retooled the campaign to start earlier, with a focus on the college-age population. As a result, college students have been enlisted as peer educators not only on campuses but also in the larger community.

Goode, Jones and Lewis, who received the training at the University of Pennsylvania last year, helped associate professor Gail Wade and instructor Pat Drake develop materials and organize the two-day program.

“With more than 50 percent of all pregnancies unplanned, it's critical for all women of reproductive age -- and their partners -- to be informed about preconception health and what it takes to have a healthy baby,” says Wade, who is a member of the Education and Prevention Committee of the Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium. “Delaware has a very high infant mortality rate, and we're trying to change that.”

Attendees at the UD workshop included 14 students from Delaware State University (DSU), 11 UD students, and four community health ambassadors affiliated with Christiana Care Health System.

Health ambassador Terry Casson-Ferguson, who lives in Northeast Wilmington and works with the Kingswood Community Center, attended the training sessions because she is continuously seeking resources that will help the people in her neighborhood lead better, healthier lives.

“I'm here to get information from the speakers and feedback from the students about what we can do to start earlier in people's lives and get a better outcome,” she said. “We need to teach young people in our community to look beyond sex and drugs to see the big picture.”

Debra Finney, a third-year nursing student at DSU, said, “I found it extremely alarming that so much occurs within the first 30 days after conception. This has made me look at the whole subject of pregnancy differently -- on questions ranging from 'Did you take your folic acid today?' to 'What kind of father would your significant other make?'”

Lisa Centrone, a freshman nursing major at UD, found the content refreshingly different from the sex education classes typically offered to high school students. “The emphasis here was on health throughout your life,” she said. “Even if you're not ready to have kids, you can benefit from it.”

Based on the quality of the education plan they developed for UD, Goode, Jones and Lewis have been invited to attend Minority Health Month Outreach Week in Chicago from April 2-9.

“These three students have done an outstanding job on this program,” Wade says. “Pat [Drake] has helped them with their on-campus activities, and I've helped them with community outreach, but they have brought tremendous energy and a wealth of great ideas to this project. I'm really proud of them.”

The UD preconception peer education program is supported by funding from the Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium and the UD School of Nursing.

Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Doug Baker

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