The winners of the seventh annual D.C. Public Health Case Challenge were announced at this year’s National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Annual Meeting.  The challenge aims to promote interdisciplinary, problem-based learning around a public health issue of importance to the Washington, D.C., community.

The challenge topic was “Reducing Health Disparities in Maternal Mortality by Addressing Unmet Health-Related Social Needs.” The teams from D.C.-area universities — each composed of four to six members from at least three disciplines — were given two weeks to develop a solution to this complex problem with a hypothetical $3 million budget to be used during a five-year span. The teams presented their solutions to a panel of expert judges, and teams were evaluated on the interdisciplinary nature of their response, feasibility of implementation, creativity, and practicality.

The 2019 Grand Prize winner was the team from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Team members Shaikh Afaq, Meron Assefa, Ava Hawkinson, Brendaline Nettey, Christopher Reed, and Stephanie Sanchez (faculty advisor: Greg Carey) proposed a solution titled “D.C. P.O.W.E.R.”  The team described a multilevel intervention creating a network of doulas, community health workers, and peer community coaches to promote women’s health in areas where access to maternal care is limited or not fully utilized.  As part of their proposal, community organizers would build a coalition of community members, leaders, and providers to mobilize around policy changes in the D.C. area, including lobbying for passage of the Maternal Health Care Improvement and Expansion Act, reimbursement of birth doula services from Medicaid and private payers, and paid maternity/paternity leave.

Three additional prizes were awarded:

Practicality Prize: The George Washington University team’s C.A.R.E. For Women (Community Partnerships to End Maternal Mortality Among Black Women) proposed a multifaceted intervention that would facilitate and design educational opportunities to increase self-advocacy and community support for pregnant black women, and to increase the number of black birth workers in D.C. to reduce morbidity and mortality. (Team members: Joya Chowdhury, Michelle Clausen, Tiff Cunin, Mateen Ghassemi, Naeha Haridasa, and Srijana Singh KC; faculty advisors: Ans Irfan and Gene Migliaccio)

Harrison C. Spencer Interprofessional Prize: The George Mason University team’s United D.C. Maternal Health Solution described how maternal mortality is a multi-disciplinary issue related to social determinants, resources, and clinical factors. The team’s solution was a one-stop shop via an online app for pregnant families that includes a health assessment, a maternal care coordinator, virtual face time, a support group, and reminders. The team also proposed a mechanism to integrate social needs and electronic healthcare record data to better identify high-risk patients. (Team members: Makala Carrington, Mahalakshmi Subramanian, Susana Vega, and Sai Vinnakota; faculty advisors: Debora Goldberg and Patrice Winter)

Wildcard Prize: Howard University team’s UJIMA (Uniting Justice in Maternal Advocacy) was awarded the Wildcard Prize for innovation and a community-centered approach. The solution’s mission is to “build and maintain our community together and make our sisters’ problem of disparities in maternal health our problem to solve together, especially for black women in Wards 7 and 8.” The solution was substantially community-focused with bi-monthly pop-up events that would leverage existing resources and local partners; birth doula awareness, training, and access; and self-advocacy training. The solution also included the development of an app to create an online sense of community, incentivizes for pop-up event attendance, and wellness tips. (Team members: Regan Burgess, Kailande Cassamajor, Alannah Mack, Michaella Moore, Adaeze Okoroajuzie, and Naomi Rankin; faculty advisor: Anna Allen)

The 2019 panel of judges included:


  • Kimberly Seals Allers, maternal and infant health strategist and director, Maternal and Child Health Communication Collective, and founder, The Irth App
  • Andria Cornell, associate director, Women’s & Infant Health, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs
  • Darla Spence Coffey, president and chief executive officer, Council on Social Work Education
  • Rahul Gupta, senior vice president and chief medical and health officer, March of Dimes
  • Mary Faith Marshall, Emily Davie and Joseph S. Kornfeld Professor of Biomedical Ethics and director, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia School of Medicine
  • Iman Newsome, birth doula and member, DC Maternal Mortality Review Committee
  • Jeannina Perez, senior campaign director, MomsRising Together and MomsRising Education Fund
  • Karey M. Sutton, director, Health Equity Research Workforce, Association of American Medical Colleges


The D.C. Public Health Case Challenge is co-sponsored by the NAM’s Kellogg Health of the Public Fund and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Roundtable on Population Health Improvement, with support from the Global Forum on Innovation in Health Professional Education.

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond.  It serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an adviser to the nation and the international community.  Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors.  The NAM collaborates closely with its peer academies and other divisions within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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