September 23, 2021


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Meet the SDG3 researchers: Pablo Gaitán-Rossi

Pablo Gaitán-Rossi is a health researcher at EQUIDE, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico. His research focuses on health equity, well-being and social policy. His academic interests focus on food insecurity; Mental Health; and maternal health and early childhood development.

Welcome to our Meet the SDG3 researcher collection of blogs. We interview a series of academics and practitioners working in various fields to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Here you can find other items from this collection, grouped with the tag ‘SDG3 researchers“.

I am a researcher interested in the social determinants of health. It took me a while to identify this as the area where I want to contribute. Traditional disciplines seemed somewhat limited in tackling the complex health issues that we urgently need to tackle collectively. I started studying psychology, then a master’s degree in sociology, and obtained my doctorate in social protection, where I acquired a strong inclination for public health. It was at this intersection that I discovered how essential academic research is to improving people’s lives in multiple dimensions.

Research teams that challenge traditional academic boundaries are those that do truly innovative and applied research.

Switching from one academic discipline to another required extra work at first, but this has proven to be an advantage, especially when working with diverse research teams. Nowadays, I often find myself among colleagues who challenge traditional academic boundaries with their research and don’t like being locked into a narrow academic realm. I think it’s the teams that do really innovative and applied research. Achieving health equity in low and middle income countries (LMICs) has become my goal and I am working to achieve it as soon as possible. EQUIDE – an interdisciplinary equity-focused research institute at the Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico.

Left: Palenque, Chiapas. People who come to an appointment at a primary health care center. This is the framework for the Prospera Digital training sessions – a pilot mobile health intervention to address maternal and child health and development. Right: Invitation to a Prospera Digital training session in Zinacantepec, Puebla. Photo credit: Renata Gerdes

I am currently concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting LMICs, with the potential to reverse the slow progress we were making towards health equity.

I couldn’t do this job on my own. During my PhD at Boston College, Professor Jim Lubben helped me understand basic research methods and aim for high quality measurements in our studies. At EQUIDE, Dr Mireya Vilar-Compte taught me how to research and communicate results – hundreds of hours defining the story our results told us. Recently, Professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla showed me how our research can have a huge impact in influencing health policy. It takes a village to advance a research agenda.

Let us not forget the other interrelated consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on mental health.

My work – our work – has always been closely linked to SDG3 on several fronts. I am currently concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting LMICs. A crisis of this magnitude is a testament to past structural deficiencies – as in the case of underfunded and fragmented health systems – and has the potential to reverse progress we are moving towards access to quality essential health care services (SDG 3.8).

I recently co-edited a special collection on inequalities in health and health systems in Latin America and the Caribbean in International Journal for Health Equity. The collection clearly shows the many challenges the region was already facing. Yet we are starting to see disturbing results on how, with the COVID-19 pandemic, maternal deaths increase, affecting more seriously the LMICs.

And let’s not forget other interrelated consequences, especially with mental health (SDG 3.4). As in other countries, compared to pre-pandemic levels, we identified a noticeably high prevalence of anxiety and depression in Mexico, which is concentrated among low-income households. Above all, it was strongly associated with food insecurity (SDG 2.1) and with other coping strategies, such as acquiring debt.

Itzincab, Yucatán. “Huerto de Traspatio” – a vegetable garden intervention aimed at reducing food insecurity in the household. The program was a central part of the intervention model of “Haciendas del Mundo Maya”, an NGO whose mission is to improve income, housing, health, nutrition and socio-emotional skills. Photo credit: Renata Gerdes

Our results underscore the importance of social protection programs during health and economic crises. In addition, they serve as warning signs of more serious results, such as the expected increase in suicides (SDG 3.4) among people in financial difficulty.

Tixcacaltuyub, Yucatán. Handicrafts made my Mayan women as part of “Taller Maya”, an initiative of the NGO “Haciendas del Mundo Maya”. Photo credit: Renata Gerdes

Doing this type of research in times of uncertainty is particularly difficult as the region needs to strengthen its early warning and monitoring systems to cope with disasters (SDG 3.d). Funded by UNICEF-Mexico, we brought together in a timely manner key health and social indicators with mobile phone surveys based on rigorous probability sampling designs. Publication of data sets and media presentations of results has helped advance the social protection policy agenda and raised awareness among the lay public.

I am confident that our work will serve as a precedent for improving the preparedness and capacity of LMICs for future crises (SDG 3.d). And I hope this research inspires students to take bold action to tackle the pressing issues of our time.

Here you can find other items from this collection, grouped with the tag ‘SDG3 researchers“.

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