First Exposure initiative provides critical resources for maternal, reproductive and child health in Ontario

a Black mother holds her infant child
A new information hub and research network at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health will fill crucial gaps in health care for mothers and infants (photo by Art_Photo/Shutterstock)

The University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health is launching a groundbreaking network dedicated to maternal, reproductive and early child health.

Supported by a $5-million investment from the Vohra Miller Foundation, First Exposure will support research, education and knowledge generation, as well as synthesis and translation activities – helping parents, children and their families.

First Exposure will remove barriers to access and provide parents with crucial health information. It will focus in particular on fetal, neonatal and infantile exposures to various medications, non-medicinal substances, maternal diseases, the rapidly changing ecosystem in our environment and the social determinants of health.

“First Exposure will draw from U of T’s world-leading expertise in public health to improve the health of parents, infants and children across Canada, especially those in marginalized, vulnerable and underserved populations,” says U of T President Meric Gertler. “On behalf of the University of Toronto, I would like to thank Sabina Vohra-Miller, Craig Miller, and the Vohra Miller Foundation for their vision, leadership and generosity in making this very hopeful initiative possible.”

As an information hub, First Exposure will provide easy-to-access and up-to-date information for families and health-care providers – with a focus on underserved and remote communities. It will also collect and provide secure, anonymous patient data to scientists who can translate research, fill relevant knowledge gaps and improve timely decision-making abilities for parents, health practitioners and the public health and health-care systems.

As an academic research network, First Exposure will support trainees in maternal health, reproductive health and early-life exposure research, and provide support to researchers undertaking important new studies and projects. It will also drive partnerships and innovations across U of T, the Toronto Academic Health Science Network, Black and Indigenous health organizations, as well as industry, hospital and government partners – all with a view to supporting communities in raising healthy, thriving children.

“We’ve long known that positive long-term health outcomes are influenced by maternal health – and throughout the very first months of life,” says Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “The Vohra Miller Foundation recognized the expertise and capacity at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health to make a real difference and, with this visionary investment, will help our researchers and clinicians strengthen maternal, reproductive and child health for Canadians.

“First Exposure is an innovative new resource that will have a tremendous impact on both the short- and long-term health of Canadians. On behalf of the Dalla Lana School, and the thousands of beneficiaries of this investment, our deepest thanks to Sabina and Craig, and the Vohra Miller Foundation, for its leadership.”

Vohra-Miller, who holds two U of T degrees, and her husband Craig co-founded the Vohra Miller Foundation in January 2020 with a philanthropic mission to improve the health of people and the planet. Shortly thereafter, the world was plunged into a global pandemic and the Vohra Miller Foundation responded by helping establish U of T’s Institute for Pandemics with a $1-million investment. This was followed the next year by its $5-million investment in First Exposure.

Vohra-Miller has a background in clinical pharmacology and runs a popular science blog.

“Our goal has always been to strengthen the planet and its people,” she says. “First Exposure will equip families and health providers with evidence-based information about the risks and impacts of early-life exposure to medications, environmental pollutants and other substances during pregnancy and lactation. We’re proud to have partnered with U of T for this important new initiative.”

The investment from the Vohra Miller Foundation also funds a range of scholarships and fellowships, as well as research, engagement, resource and outreach activities that will build long-term health and resilience for generations of families. Through strategic knowledge translation, synthesis and generation, First Exposure will build on its own outreach and research successes, growing over the years to become a key resource for maternal health in Canada.

“The Vohra Miller Foundation continues to take its place as a powerful and positive force for social impact and public health,” says David Palmer, U of T’s vice-president, advancement. “As an entrepreneurial and philanthropic leader, the foundation is making a huge difference for the health and resilience of generations of families. Their current investment represents a long-term vision for healthy children and families – and a stronger health-care system for people in vulnerable and marginalized communities, which in turn builds a stronger society for everyone.”

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