Monday, April 13, 2015

Research of Brett D. Nelson, MD, MPH, DTM&H

Photo of Brett D. Nelson, MD, MPH, DTM&H

Brett D. Nelson, MD, MPH, DTM&H, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School, Pediatrician and Global Health Faculty, Division of Global Health, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Director of Pediatric and Newborn Programs, Division of Global Health and Human Rights, Department of Emergency Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Director of the Youth in Crisis Program Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Dr Brett Nelson is an MGHfC pediatrician, newborn hospitalist, and global health faculty member whose research interests are health care provision for vulnerable populations, particularly newborns, children, and individuals affected by conflict and crisis around the globe. Given children’s inherent vulnerability, Dr Nelson is grateful and humbled by the opportunity to work with these populations in giving them greater voice and in attempting to eliminate or mitigate the tragic impact of global poverty, crisis, and conflict upon newborn and child health.

1. Improving newborn survival in resource-limited settings

Each year, approximately 3 million newborns pass away within the first month of life, and another 3 million are lost as stillbirths. The vast majority of these perinatal deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Fortunately, most can be prevented using existing, simple, and cost-effective interventions. Such interventions include provider-level training programs, such as the ‘Helping Babies Breathe (HBB)’ newborn resuscitation program and its follow-on training, ‘Essential Care for Every Baby (ECEB).’

One of Dr Nelson’s primary research interests is critically evaluating and improving perinatal and newborn training and healthcare services among facilities in resource-limited settings. With the support of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Dr Nelson currently leads two novel country-wide evaluations of HBB and ECEB in Tanzania and Ghana. He and his in-country teams are using an integrated multi-method approach to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of these training programs. Their overriding goal is to improve the adoption, retention, and practice of life-saving skills, and, thereby, to significantly improve newborn outcomes in resource-limited settings.


  • Kristian R. Olson, Aya Caldwell, Melva Sihombing, Anthony J. Guarino, Brett D. Nelson. Community-based newborn resuscitation among frontline providers in a developing country. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 31 October 2012;119:244-47.
  • Christina Lulu Makene, Marya Plotkin, Sheena Currie, Dunstan Bishanga, Patience Ugwi, Henry Louis, Kiholeth Winani, Brett D. Nelson. Improvements in newborn care and newborn resuscitation following a quality improvement program at scale: results from an observational study in Tanzania. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2014 Nov 19;14(1):381-91.
  • Brett D. Nelson, editor. Essential Clinical Global Health (textbook). Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.
Dr. Nelson performing a portable cardiac ultrasound on a newborn in Liberia with a suspected cardiac lesion.

2. Addressing the needs of children and youth affected by crisis

During times of crisis, conflict, and disaster, children and youth are among the most vulnerable groups and are most often disproportionately affected. Since the Balkan wars during the early 1990s, Dr Nelson has been heavily involved in serving populations affected by crisis, including providing clinical care and conducting epidemiologic research in dozens of disrupted settings (e.g., Iraq, Republics of the Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Liberia, Haiti, etc.) while working for organizations such as the CDC, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Unicef, and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Within these settings, Dr Nelson is particularly interested in understanding effective ways to prevent, mitigate, and address the many needs of children and youth affected by crisis and conflict. This research has included the development and evaluation of country-wide maternal-newborn-child health programs, injury and illness surveillance in conflict- and disaster-affected regions, as well as the development of innovative methodologies for the assessment and redevelopment of health services in post-crisis settings.

Most recently, Dr Nelson has helped secure generous funding to establish a new university-wide program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to address the needs of at-risk youth in the Middle East and North Africa. As Director of this new Middle East Youth in Crisis Program, Dr Nelson will lead a multidisciplinary team to identify, develop, fund, and disseminate best practices related to the large population of vulnerable and crisis-affected youth in the Middle East and North Africa.

FiguresDr Nelson’s humanitarian work includes research and service provision among populations affected by conflict and disaster. Illustrated here are the remnants of decades of war in South Sudan, a Syrian refugee camp in the Middle East, and displaced Haitians following the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Dr. Nelson’s humanitarian work includes research and service provision among populations affected by conflict and disaster.  Illustrated here are the remnants of decades of war in South Sudan, a Syrian refugee camp in the Middle East, and displaced Haitians following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.


  • Satchit Balsari, Jay Lemery, Timothy P. Williams, Brett D. Nelson. Protecting the Children of Haiti. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010 Mar 4;362(9):e25.
  • Brett D. Nelson, Lisa Collins, Michael J. VanRooyen, Nina Joyce, Denis Mukwege, Susan Bartels. Impact of sexual violence on children in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Medicine, Conflict and Survival. 2011 October-December; 27(4):211-25.
  • Falah A. Basher Ahamadani, Henry Louis, Patience Ugwi, Rosemary Hines, Mimi Pomerleau, Roy Ahn, Thomas F. Burke, Brett D. Nelson. Perinatal healthcare in a conflict-affected setting: Evaluation of healthcare services and newborn outcomes at a regional medical center in Iraq. World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. 2014; 20(12):705-11.

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