Mike Baiocchi wins Rosenkranz Prize for Heath Care Research in Developing Countries

Rosenkranz Prize 2017 winner Mike Baiocchi and his partner, Clea Sarnquist, both of Stanford Medicine, conduct research on the ground in Nairobi, Kenya, to determine whether a rape prevention program is truly making a difference.

In the slums of Nairobi, where sexual assault is as commonplace as it is taboo to discuss, a team of Kenyan counselors is teaching kids that no means no.

The girls learn to shout — “Hands off my body!” — and throw an elbow jab or good kick to the groin. The boys are encouraged to stand up for the girls and fight against the social traditions that have normalized rape.

Perhaps most effectively, the children learn how to talk themselves out of precarious situations, use clever diversions and speak loudly when faced with potential attackers through a series of role-playing exercises that promote healthy gender norms.

The behavioral intervention appears to be working. Observational studies have inferred that the incidence of rape has dropped dramatically — perhaps even by half.

But how do those who are devoted to protecting these girls from sexual violence prove to themselves and their donors that their efforts and dollars are making a difference?

This is where MIKE BAIOCCHI comes in. The Stanford statistician and his team of researchers and students are conducting the largest-ever randomized trial of its kind in an effort to place rare, high-quality quantitative proof alongside the more common observational evidence.

“That’s what I specialize in: messy, real-world data where you try and prove the cause-and-effect relationship,” said Baiocchi, assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

Baiocchi and his team have designed a closed-cohort study that will track the behavior of about 5,000 girls and 1,000 boys enrolled in the No Means No Worldwide project, which is training 300,000 girls and boys in Kenya and Malawi to prevent rape and teen pregnancy.

This innovative approach to applying math to a real-world problem won him this year’s Rosenkranz Prize for Health Care Research in Developing Countries from the Stanford Health Policy center at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

“The entire Rosenkranz selection committee was highly impressed both with the rigor of Mike’s work — which he publishes in top journals in the field of statistics — as well as his unconventional and potentially very impactful work on the prevention of gender-based violence in illegal settlements around Nairobi,” said GRANT MILLER, associate professor of medicine and core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy.

Miller chairs the committee that selects the winners of Stanford Health Policy’s annual $100,000 prize, which goes to promising young Stanford researchers who are investigating ways to improve health care and health policy in developing countries.

Visit the Stanford Health Policy web pages for more.