URC’s Ram Shrestha to Receive Honorary Doctorate

URC staff member Ram Shrestha received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Tufts University in Boston, MA, May 19. The Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, having conferred a Master’s degree in international nutrition on the Nepali native in 1990, had invited him back to recognize nearly two decades of work to improve the health of mothers and children.

In 1995, armed with his nutrition degree, Mr. Shrestha founded the Nepali Technical Assistance Group, a nonprofit dedicated to maternal and infant health. At the time, international recognition that volunteers could offer health services to hard-to-reach populations was on the rise. Less apparent were the ways and means to make that happen.

Eventually helping to strengthen community network support for volunteers—Nepal’s 50,000-strong cadre of female community health workers—Mr. Shrestha increasingly focused on the workers’ motivations. He experimented with ideas like colorful tote bags to draw them in and guided communities to find ways to build the women’s status and self-esteem, thereby keeping them motivated in volunteer efforts.

Starting with basic health services like vitamin A distribution, Nepal’s volunteer program was expanded to include other vitamins, deworming care, nutrition education for mothers, pneumonia treatment, and the distribution of health information. Tuft’s doctoral award statement highlights Mr. Shrestha’s contribution to halving infant mortality in Nepal and significantly reducing night blindness in children and pregnant women, much of it associated with vitamin A capsules distributed by these volunteers.

At URC and through work in African countries, Mr. Shrestha is further developing his theories relative to motivation among volunteer health workers: “Motivation comprises stages,” he posits, “initially, a small token, such as a tote bag or tee-shirt, suffices, then increasing levels of investment—recognition, then status-building, and then opportunities—are required.” He also stresses motivation’s dynamic nature: “If the environment changes,” he notes, “so too must the motivational strategy.”

Like so many of his colleagues at URC, Mr. Shrestha is excited to be contributing to the cutting-edge of advances in enabling developing-country communities to effectively use quality improvement approaches at the community level.

Efficient, sustainable, and low-cost, Shrestha’s innovative female community health volunteer model has been widely recognized as a best practice for community-based nutrition and medical interventions. “With the experience gained from applying this volunteer model,” he reports, “we developed and tested in several African and Asian countries a conceptual framework of a community system. Using this system enables community health workers to effectively and efficiently provide health services at the household level.”

June 04, 2013