Claudia Hansson, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet

“We should be possibilists”

Claudia Hanson, senior scientist and clinician, was awarded the SIGHT Award for 2019.

She specialises in research aiming to improve the quality of maternal and newborn healthcare in low-resource settings. In spite of progress in many countries, dr. Hanson points out that more than 300 000 mothers and 2, 7 million newborn still lose their lives every year:

”There is still a huge, needless dying among mothers and newborn. Many things are getting better. We see a huge increase in women delivering in facilities. But if one percent of the babies die during birth, numbers are too high.”

Today a child dies every six seconds, 2005 it was one every three seconds. The question is what a realistic target would be?

”We should be possibilists: We should aim at what we put as SDG goals and which has been proven to be possible in the past: a 5-7% reduction of the maternal mortality rate per year and newborns mortality rate to 12 per 1000 live birth.”  

Claudia Hanson stresses that the most life-saving remedies for mothers and newborn in low-income settings are very basic.

“The first 24 hours are the most dangerous in life. But improving this situation is not so easy. There is no magic bullet, no hightech vaccine. What is needed is skills, simple technology of cleanliness and hygiene but also access to safe surgical care ”

Hygiene is a basic issue in healthcare everywhere, as well as a sign of respectfulness, but Claudia Hanson stresses that it is a very urgent matter.

“If we take caesarean sections for instance, they are much too often done under sub-standard hygienic conditions that kill mothers and babies.”

Claudia Hanson went the first time to Africa in 1990, since then she works on Global Health issues in research and implementation. Among the almost 30 years of work she has lived over six years in Sub-Saharan Africa.

”I don’t think one can understand the situation without having lived in the poor rural areas and met the women in the villages and the healthcare workers having responsibility for hundreds of thousands of patients, seeing what their struggles are with getting access to drugs and reaching patients in remote areas.”

Supporting local health professionals are a key to improving maternal and newborn care. Claudia Hanson wants to revive the idea of “women’s rights and providers need”, a forgotten slogan coined for family planning programmes in the 1990s. Health providers should be in the centres of our thinking.

“We have to create strong networks with the aim to support the needs of health professionals,  otherwise they cannot fulfil the rights of women and children.”

It is imperative that local healthcare workers are empowered and feel that they are taken seriously.

”They have an extreme workload. In Europe one midwife employed in the maternity ward cares for about 60 deliveries per year, in Africa one midwife might care for 200 per year – and this in much more complex environment. Sometimes they have to cope without light when the electricity breaks down or without running water, or without important supplies. And at the same time they take care of women and babies who come in late with a such severe complications as are not seen anymore in high-income countries.”

Claudia Hanson is an associate professor at Karolinska Institutet and leads several research projects linked to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and India. She says that she is encouraged that SIGHT has chosen to highlight the fundamental human issue of maternal and perinatal health.

”It is a recognition of reproductive, maternal and perinatal health as an important issue, although it is as old as mankind and too often forgotten in an era where it is all about innovations and new topics.”

Claudia Hanson is passionate about improving the situation for mothers in low-resource settings.

“What drives me is my passion to collaborate with people and scientists in Africa and other parts of the world and our joint drive to make the world a better place for women and their children.”

She is testament to the fact that perseverance can yield great results.

”I feel the award is also a recognition on my life of never giving up, although I faced quite a lot of hurdles when I started my career, being a migrant and an adolescent mother.”

About Claudia Hansson:

Claudia Hansson is an associate professor at Karolinska Institutet and leads several research projects linked to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, in Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and India. PhD, Dr. Med Claudia Hansson has a specialisation in Gynecology and Obstetrics and Masters in International Health and Epidemiology. She was awarded the SIGHT Award 2019 and SEK 100 000 from the Swedish Institute for Global Health Transformation, SIGHT.

Prize citation:

”Maternal and child mortality associated with childbirth is still a gigantic health problem in low- and middle-income countries. Claudia Hanson’s extensive international research in this area is driven by the desire for progress, with capacity-building collaborations of high scientific quality. Claudia Hanson’s research thus makes a concrete contribution to saving lives.”

About the SIGHT Award:

The Prize was instituted with the support from the Einhorn family foundation. The awardee is selected by the board of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. 

Text: Sofia Hillborg, Photo: Francis Löfvenholm

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