Laura Schmucker

PDRI Senior Project Manager | Medical Ethics & Health Policy

Laura Schmucker is the PDRI Senior Project Manager based at the UPenn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) where she works with Harsha Thirumurthy and Alison Buttenheim to manage Indlela, a first-of-its kind HIV-focused nudge unit in South Africa, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her role also includes supporting the strategy of the Global Health team at CHIBE, new research project development, advising on current projects, and developing external briefs and communications.

She has a Master in Public Health degree focusing on global health from George Washington University and has worked for a number of organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. She worked with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) in Uganda for five years where she managed various research studies focusing on global health and technology, health system strengthening, maternal and newborn care, and economic inclusion within refugee populations.

Selected Publications

Philip SmithAlison ButtenheimLaura SchmuckerLinda-Gail BekkerHarsha ThirumurthyDvora L. Joseph Davey
(2021). Undetectable = Untransmittable (U = U) Messaging Increases Uptake of HIV Testing Among Men: Results from a Pilot Cluster Randomized Trial. AIDS Behav. 31:1–9.  Epub ahead of print.

HIV testing coverage in sub-Saharan Africa is lower among men than women. We investigated the impact of a peer-delivered U = U (undetectable equals untransmittable) message on men’s HIV testing uptake through a cluster randomized trial with individual mobile clinic days as a unit of randomisation.

On standard of care (SOC) days, peer promoters informed men about the availability of HIV testing at the mobile clinic. On intervention days, peer promoters delivered U = U messages. We used logistic regression adjusting for mobile clinic location, clustering by study day, to determine the percentage of invited men who tested for HIV at the mobile clinic.

Peer promoters delivered 1048 invitations over 12 days. In the SOC group, 68 (13%) of 544 men invited tested for HIV (3, 4.4% HIV-positive). In the U = U group, 112 (22%) of 504 men invited tested for HIV (7, 6.3% HIV-positive). Men in the U = U group had greater odds of testing for HIV (adjusted odds ratio = 1.89, 95% CI 1.21-2.95; p = 0.01).

Tailored, peer-delivered messages that explain the benefits of HIV treatment in reducing HIV transmission can increase men’s HIV testing uptake.

Slawa RokickiBrian MwesigwaLaura SchmuckerJessica Cohen

(December 2019). Shedding light on quality of care: A study protocol for a randomized trial evaluating the impact of the Solar Suitcase in rural health facilities on maternal and newborn care quality in Uganda. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 19(1).

Background: Continued progress in reducing maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality in low-income countries requires a renewed focus on the quality of delivery care. Reliable electricity and lighting are a cornerstone of a well-equipped health system, but most primary maternity care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are either not connected to the electrical grid or suffer frequent blackouts.

Lack of reliable electricity and light in maternity facilities may contribute to poor quality of both routine and emergency obstetric and newborn care, by hindering infection control, increasing delays in providing care, and reducing health worker morale. The “Solar Suitcase” is a solar electric system designed specifically for maternity care facilities in low-resource environments. The purpose of this trial is to evaluate the impact of the Solar Suitcase on the reliability of light, quality of obstetric and newborn care, and health worker satisfaction.

Methods: We are conducting a study with 30 maternity care facilities in rural Uganda that lack access to a reliable, bright light source. The study is a stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial. Study facilities are identified according to predefined eligibility criteria and randomized by blocking on baseline covariates. The intervention is a “Solar Suitcase”, a complete solar electric system that provides essential lighting and power for charging phones and small medical devices.

The primary outcomes are the reliability and quality of light during intrapartum care, the process quality of obstetric and newborn care, and health worker satisfaction. Outcomes will be assessed via direct clinical observation by trained enumerators (estimated n = 1980 birth observations), as well as interviews with health workers and facility managers. Lighting and blackouts will be captured through direct observation and via light sensors installed in facilities.

Discussion: A key feature of a high-quality health system is an appropriate infrastructure, including reliable, bright lighting, and electricity. Rigorous evidence on the role of a reliable light source in maternal and newborn care is needed to accelerate the “electrification” of maternity facilities across sub-Saharan Africa. This study will be the first to rigorously assess the extent to which reliable light is an important driver of the quality of care experienced by women and newborns.