Student Research: Exploring Maternal & Child Health in Thailand

Since working with ethnic minority and displaced populations affected by the HIV epidemic in Thailand as an undergraduate and later as a researcher with the United Nations, CDE doctoral candidate Stephanie Koning has been interested in public health in the area around the Thai-Myanmar border. At UW–Madison, Koning, who is pursuing a joint PhD/MA degree is population health sciences and sociology, has built on this early experience and focused her dissertation on global displacement and its impacts on maternal and child health in Thailand.

Koning began her research project by collecting descriptive data on mothers and children living in northern Thai border areas. Here, a high percentage of the population has experienced varied forms of displacement—internal, forceful, or voluntary—while others are stateless and are not considered citizens or nationals of any country due to social and political conflicts, among other factors.

To better understand the impacts of these experiences on women’s health and the health of their children, Koning surveyed over 800 mother-child dyads, collecting anthropometric measurements (such as weight and height) and hair samples. Hair, through an analysis of cortisol levels, can exhibit traces of psychosocial distress. Koning is currently analyzing this data to pinpoint links between migration history, legal status, stress, women’s health, and the early health and development of their children. By using this social and biological data, Koning’s work will provide new insights on the study of displacement and maternal and child health in non-Western contexts.

Following the completion of her dissertation, Koning will continue her research as a postdoc at Northwestern’s Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research, beginning in the fall of 2018. In the future, she hopes to collect more longitudinal data from her study participants in Thailand to learn how displacement influences health over time.