We are several months into fast-tracked, concerted efforts across the globe as we work towards understanding the impacts of COVID-19. But to date, there is still limited data to support best practices for pregnant women.
That’s where the Canadian COVID-19 in Pregnancy Surveillance project comes in.
Dr. Money is subspecialist in Reproductive Infectious Diseases and has dedicated her career to HIV in pregnancy, HPV and the prevention of cervical cancer, and the study of the vaginal microbiome and its impact on reproductive health. She describes how uncommon a gendered lens has been in past infectious disease research. “It has been critical to ensure women’s health is considered in all major infectious disease outbreaks and even more so in a pandemic.”
So in the early days of COVID-19, Dr. Money wasn’t wasting any time. “I was reaching out to these incredible researchers across the country asking them to get involved. I had no resources to offer. We were all working off the side of our desks with zero funding. But I knew in my heart that if we didn’t pay attention to pregnant women at that time, nobody else was going to.”
The BC Women’s Health Foundation was pivoting too. Their newly remote staff team were busy hosting video calls with researchers and community leaders to determine the most impactful opportunities during what felt like a very uncertain period for health research funding.
When they connected with the team at iA Financial Group, they immediately knew it was the right fit. iA is a Canadian insurance company with a large office in Vancouver, BC. They had previously funded the Foundation’s annual golf tournament, so with the cancellation of all in-person events they were quick to start discussions about new funding opportunities.
“A large portion of iA’s employees and Board of Directors are women. Not only was it important for us to demonstrate this type of leadership in our sector, we also wanted to show our commitment to our own employees. We’re a passionate group of people. We hold a shared belief that investing in women is investing in the future.” – Azmina Karim-Bondy, Chief Legal Counsel.
iA’s $25,000 contribution really gave Dr. Money’s project lift.
It was thanks to this initial funding that she was able to tap into a network of experts across the country to put forward a competitive grant application to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
“Writing large grant proposals like that takes a lot of time and effort. It’s impossible to pull funding out of a hat with all the organization required, the vetting, the protocols. I wanted to second the best researchers to make this project happen. Sure, it’s easy enough to say ‘I want to build a national network’ but I needed some support to get off the ground. I couldn’t have pulled that off without iA’s initial seed funding.” – Dr. Deborah Money
The Foundation was proud to connect iA with Dr. Money’s project. They were grateful to Azmina and the iA team for demonstrating such valuable leadership in their community. There is a beautiful ripple effect that can happen when those in corporate leadership positions see the value in investing in women’s health research.
Dr. Money’s project was one of 1,400 applications to the CIHR… and they ranked third. They received $825,000 from the CIHR for their national project, and their team has since joined two global research collaborations, offering best practices from a Canadian perspective on a world stage.
Dr. Money describes feeling honoured that we could lead from Vancouver. Throughout her career, she had witnessed so many women’s research initiatives that were excellent scientifically but never really connected in this way. “When international bodies started to ask what the data was showing us about COVID-19 and pregnancy, we were proud to respond as a country rather than individual researchers all over the map.”
The potential for this research is immense.
As for what’s next? Dr. Money laughs, “I’ll admit this project has become a bit of a monster! There are so many new questions and sub-projects evolving each day, as we learn more about this virus. It will be a long and complex effort, but I’ve never been more proud to work with such a dedicated team of brilliant researchers.”
Their main priority is to closely follow the outcomes of women who had COVID-19 during pregnancy, and follow the information on their infants to examine their health outcomes. They are also striving to maintain this momentum as vaccine trials progress so pregnant women could potentially be vaccinated.
BC Women’s Health Foundation is BC’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the full spectrum of women’s health. The information shared is intended to educate, inform, and point readers to credible sources. It is not intended to substitute professional medical advice.