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Study to Address the Social drivers of Mental Illness Launched in Uganda by Kennesaw State University & Makerere University

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A new 5-year study has been announced to determine the link between social drivers and mental health among young women who live in the slums of Kampala in Uganda.  Kennesaw State University (KSU) received the five-year $3.3 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has partnered with Makerere University to conduct this interdisciplinary project.  

Mental illnesses are understudied, and scarce services lack evaluations, particularly in low-resource settings such as slums. In response to the vulnerable state of adolescent girls and young women in the urban slums, the team of researchers are implementing this five-year project named “TOPOWA” (The Onward Project On Well-being and Adversity), which means to “keep pushing forward and never giving up”, in the Luganda language.

Makerere University through the School of Public Health is teaming up with two U.S universities, Kennesaw State University (KSU) and Georgia State University (GSU) in the U.S. to implement the research component of the study. The Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), a community-based organization in Kampala will lead the intervention components.

Some of the beneficiaries of the TOPOWA Project attend a tailoring course.
Some of the beneficiaries of the TOPOWA Project attend a tailoring course.

First of its kind, “the TOPOWA project will examine if a community-based intervention program comprised of vocational training, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment, team building through sports, and psychosocial support (“Socioeconomic Strengthening Targeted Training: “SeSTT”). leads to better mental health outcomes among disadvantaged women living in slums” said Dr. Monica Swahn, the Principal Investigator of the study.

The TOPOWA research project will focus on young women ages 18-24 years, the age period when most mental health symptoms are manifested and expressed. If the study shows that the intervention makes a difference in mental health outcomes (i.e., anxiety, depression, suicidality and substance use symptoms and disorders) for young women, it can address the tremendous unmet mental health needs in Uganda. The study will also increase the understanding of the community and neighborhood characteristics of the urban slums where the young women reside.

It was launched on Tuesday March 8, 2022, on International Women’s Day, a global holiday celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Speaking at the launch, Dr. Swahn, the Principal Investigator, and also Professor and Dean of the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services at KSU said “TOPOWA was in support of global action to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”

Dr. Swahn, the Principal Investigator, and also Professor and Dean of the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services at KSU
Dr. Swahn, the Principal Investigator, and also Professor and Dean of the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services at KSU

She also noted that this was a ground-breaking study, with investigators representing diverse expertise from three universities.

“Our TOPOWA project is ground-breaking because we look at the social drivers of mental illness and how to mitigate them. We conceived this project before the pandemic, but now with the pandemic, we know more than ever how mental health has been understudied and the growing scope of unmet need in the community,” she said.  Dr. Swahn also added that, “We don’t have enough interventions for mental health in particularly among vulnerable populations in low-resource settings. So, what we have learnt post-COVID is that we need to find scalable interventions to better support mental health for women who live in poverty, particularly women who live in slums.”

Using a multicomponent 27-month, parallel prospective cohort design of young women, the study team will recruit 300 participants from three selected UYDEL study sites in Banda, Bwaise and Makindye to determine the pathways and mechanisms of mental health outcomes.  The study will involve focus groups, a Photovoice project, community mapping, surveys, use of sleep wearables, saliva and stress reactivity to detect and determine stress levels of the young women.

The investigators will measure stress though threat reactivity in fear conditioning tests, ratio of salivary cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and α-amylase, and sleep quality by deploying Fitbit wearable sensors for each study participant as well measuring environmental stressors through geotrackers.

“We will ask these young women to wear these Fitbits. These will pick up on the measure of sleep. We know that when people are stressed, they have poor mental health, but also, they have poor sleep,” said Prof. Swahn.  She adds that these Fitbit devices are worn just like a wrist watch. “They will give us a lot of insight to what happens at night when people are sleeping. The women may or may not be sleeping as well as they should. So again, it’s another marker of stress, their well-being and physical health. It really adds another important innovative component of the study. We looked for other studies across the sub-Saharan Africa and have not found any studies that use this technology in this type of setting so these gadgets will give us a lot of insight.”

Some of the young women beneficiaries of the project entertain visitors at the Bwaise UYDEL site
Some of the young women beneficiaries of the project entertain visitors at the Bwaise UYDEL site

Dr. Catherine Abbo, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, and Co-Investigator of the TOPOWA study, says depression and other mental health issues are on the rise in Uganda, though they continue to go unrecognized.

“These women actually don’t even reach the clinic but people just suffer while they are in the communities. There are different anxiety disorders. So, the current estimates from the previous research shows about 1 in every 4 people have mental health issues,” Dr. Abbo says.

Asked about what could be the drivers of mental health in young adults, Dr. Abbo contends some of the drivers are psychosocial arising from the environment we live in while others maybe genetically predisposed.

Dr. Catherine Abbo, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, and Co-Investigator of the TOPOWA study.
Dr. Catherine Abbo, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, and Co-Investigator of the TOPOWA study.

“If you are going to live in an environment that is poverty stricken, you are going to live in an environment where you are not going to access education, you are not going to have support that you need to be mentally healthy, you become vulnerable to getting mental illness and that is the environmental aspect. And then we have individuals, who, because of their genetic makeup, may develop cause mental illness,” she said.

According to Dr. Abbo, the wearables are new technologies and that this is the first of its kind to be used in research in Uganda. “You know sometimes people go jogging and have phones that take the number of their steps, heart rate, so in the general population we have gadgets that can measure some aspects of body reactions but particularly in this case, it’s going to measure sleep patterns, that signify stress levels.”

Mr. Rogers Kasirye, UYDEL’s Executive Director, argues that many a time, intervention projects have been implemented among youth but they fail because of the inability to tackle underlying issues affecting the young people. He says this study to investigate the mental health status of the young women will go a long way in impacting the way such initiatives can be implemented to achieve greater success.

Executive Director of UYDEL, Rogers Kasirye.
Executive Director of UYDEL, Rogers Kasirye.

According to Mr. Kasirye, for over 25 years, UYDEL has worked with young people in the in the slums of Kampala and impacted many young people through their skilling and rehabilitation programs. He pointed out that  that a majority of the young people in slums face a lot of challenges including poverty, lack of shelter while others have long lost contact with their families.

“But we don’t go beyond to investigate and support their psychosocial needs. From experience, some people who come to our facilities have alcohol and other problems. Many times, they are even failing to sleep. Some even come to the Centre and tell you that they have not had a meal. You know what it means to sleep on an empty stomach. Others say they lost contact with their families while others say they have been sexually abused and others raped. In other words, they have a mountain of psychosocial needs that must be addressed. With this project, we hope to track girls for several years to match the research findings with empowerment interventions,” said Mr. Kasirye.

TOPOWA Study PI Prof. Monica Swahn interracts with Makerere University School of Public Health team. In the photo, Dr. JB Isunju, Mr. Charles Ssemugabo and Ezekiel Musasizi.
TOPOWA Study PI Prof. Monica Swahn interracts with Makerere University School of Public Health team. In the photo, Dr. JB Isunju, Mr. Charles Ssemugabo and Ezekiel Musasizi.

Ms. Anna Kavuma, the Deputy Executive Director, UYDEL says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a toll on mental health issues among young women by increasing their vulnerability.

She notes that whereas the boys have equally been affected by the pandemic and could have pushed them to high stress levels, girls have a high level of vulnerability with responsibilities such as bringing up the children, dealing with pregnancies, accessing medical supplies as well as shelter.

Ms. Anna Kavuma, the Deputy Executive Director, UYDEL.
Ms. Anna Kavuma, the Deputy Executive Director, UYDEL.

“It’s quite difficult for the girls. It’s an understatement for me to say that they are not highly affected by mental issues in Uganda, that is why this project is coming in to understand that. For instance, if we gave young girls vocational skills and training in beauty and cosmetics, or any other vocational skilling, will it help reduce on these stresses that they have? Will it help address the underlying factors that they are facing? Will it help to improve  the way they sleep? Will it help improve  the stress levels? These are areas we are trying to study and we are hopeful that the results of the study will inform not only programming and practice but also inform policy environment as well,” said Nabulya.

The project’s intervention arm will look at skilling the adolescent girls and young women with the cost-effective beauty training, which the researchers say is also very easy to implement. Dr. Swahn, the PI noted, “We are hoping that if it’s shown to be effective, that is something that can be implemented in other communities and we know that many are offering vocational training but they have not been evaluated the way we are doing it with a very vigorous scientific protocol.

The TOPOWA Research team.
The TOPOWA Research team.

Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze, Professor and Dean, Makerere University School of Public Health thanked Prof. Swahn and UYDEL for partnering with MakSPH to implement this important project citing that the School was ready to work with the team.

“Mental health for young people is such an important area and very timely coming after the challenges and stress from the Coronavirus pandemic! We are excited to partner with you on this project,” said Prof. Wanyenze.

The TOPOWA Research Team is composed of nine investigators spanning two continents and three universities.  The Project’s Principal Investigator (PI) is Dean and Professor Monica Swahn of Kennesaw State University. The Co-Investigators of the project include Dr. Cathy Abbo, Dr. Godfrey Bbosa, Dr. John Bosco Isunju, Charles Ssemugabo and Dr. Eddy Walakira from Makerere University, Dr. Ebony Glover from KSU and Dr. Rachel Culbreth and Dr. Karen Nielsen from GSU.

TOPOWA Pictorial.
TOPOWA Pictorial.

The Executive Director of UYDEL, Rogers Kasirye, leads the implementing partner whose mission is “to enhance socioeconomic transformation of disadvantaged young people through advocacy and skills development for self-reliance”.  

The TOPOWA Project Advisory Board is composed of members from the Kampala City Government, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development as well as the Dean for the Makerere University School of Public Health.

Davidson Ndyabahika is the Communications Officer, MakSPH/TOPOWA Project

Article originally posted on MakSPH website

Health

Boy Children Report More Physical & Emotional Abuse

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Men in the intervention group during the Parenting for Responsibility (PfR) project training session.

By George Kisetedde

On 3rd August, 2022, the CHDC (Child Health and Development Centre) disseminated study findings from one of the research studies carried out at the centre. These findings were presented under the title,“The Prevention of Violence against Children and Women: Baseline and Implementation Science Results from Parenting Cluster Randomised Trial.” Moderated by Dr. Anthony Batte, a lecturer at CHDC. Study findings were presented by Joseph Kahwa, the trial manager of the Parenting for Responsibility (PfR) project, under which this study falls.

Kahwa described PfR as a community based parenting programme delivered to both male and female parents. This programme aims to improve parenting skills, prevent violence against children, and to improve spousal relationships.

Findings from the study

Findings from this study showed that parents maltreat boy children more than girl children. The boys reported more emotional and physical violence than girls. Furthermore, the boy children reported that male caregivers specifically, maltreat them more. On the other hand, the girl children reported more sexual violence from caregivers than boys. On the whole, the children reported that female caregivers emotionally and physically abused them more compared to male caregivers.

More findings, according to Kahwa, showed that 46.5% of parents in Amuru can provide their children with soap to wash, 44.5% can provide school fees, 44.4% can provide school materials, 44.2% can provide new clothes, 43.3% can buy school uniform, and 35.9% can provide a pair of shoes.

How the research is conducted

The study is divided into 16 group sessions. The first 9 sessions are single sex, that is, male caregivers and female caregivers train separately. The next 7 sessions are mixed with male and female participants combined during training.

A mixed group parenting session for both men and women.
A mixed group parenting session for both men and women.

Kahwa explained that this programme was initiated to deal with VAC (violence against children) and IPV (intimate partner violence). These two vices are closely linked and have a significant impact on how children turn out.

Kahwa added that the PfR research programme aims at addressing the four major factors that may lead to VAC/IPV. These include; poor parental bonding, harsh parenting, unequal gender socialisation and spousal relationships.Poor parental bonding refers to the absence of a healthy close connection between a parent and their child. When a parent and child are not close, the parent may lack empathy for the child and the ability to perceive and respond to their child’s needs. When this bond is weak, a parent is unable to appreciate a child’s needs and can end up being unrealistically tough, which results in harsh parenting. Unequal gender socialisation generally refers to the different expectations that parents have of their children depending on their gender-male or female. The quality of the spousal relationship between parents also affects a child’s life. These four areas are what the parenting sessions concentrate on during the training.

The PfR study employed a cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) design. Male and female caregivers were recruited from cluster villages in the Wakiso and Amuru districts in Uganda. One child aged 10 to 14 per household was randomly selected and assessed.

The caregivers were divided into two groups; the intervention group and the control group. The intervention group underwent all the 16 sessions of the training while the control group underwent a 2 session lecture on parenting. The impact of the PfR intervention was then ascertained by comparing baseline and endline results (or the before-and-after experiences of parents). The study participants were from 54 Villages selected in both Amuru and Wakiso districts. 108 caregiver groups (54 groups per intervention)were selected. This resulted in 2328 parents recruited and 886 children.

In conclusion, Mr. Kahwa said that maltreatment is still prevalent in the population. Generally, the PfR programme was well-received by parents and it had ad good attendance from parents. The programme also registered good male engagement. The peer facilitators who were recruited also had great potential in expanding the PfR programme at community level.

This study was conducted by Dr Siu Godfrey as the Principal Investigator. Other members of the team included Carolyn Namutebi, Richard Sekiwunga, Joseph Kahwa, Dr Betty Okot, and Martha Atuhaire. They were supported by the Director from CHDC, Dr. Herbert Muyinda and the CHDC Finance & Administration team. The team from Glasgow & Oxford Universities in the UK included, Prof Daniel Wight, Dr Jamie Lachman , Francisco Calderon and Dr Qing Han. On the other side, the team from the SOS Children’s Village from Gulu and Wakiso included, Rachel Kayaga, Sindy Auma Florence and Godfrey Otto.

Contact: George Kisetedde – kisetedde@gmail.com | Edited by Agnes Namaganda – agnesvioletnamaganda@gmail.com

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Makerere Medical Journal: Golden Jubilee Edition 2022

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Cover Page of the Makerere Medical Journal Golden Jubilee Edition 2022.

It’s with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Golden Jubilee edition of this phenomenal journal. Yes, The Makerere Medical Journal marks 50 years of publication with this year’s edition and all this has been made possible by the endless efforts and contributions of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences Staff and students because without your research submissions and financial support, the journal wouldn’t have made it this far. To you reading this, thank you for contributing to the sustainability of this great project, year in year out.

Here’s a quote to ponder on as you delve into this year’s well-crafted articles and it’s by Zora Hurston (1891-1960), “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” And doesn’t that just define our purpose as researchers?!

This edition’s articles cover pertinent topics ranging from Antimicrobial Stewardship, COVID-19 interventions, Oral Health amongst others. It also features student projects, write-ups on student-led organizations and societies that are making a difference in the life of a health sciences’ student and many more interesting writings. Featured in this issue are international manuscripts from countries like Nigeria and we were also honored to work with other universities within the country and feature some of their students’ articles.

I would like to extend my most sincere gratitude to my team of editors that engaged in a rigorous peer review process to ensure that the articles published are up to standard. As the editorial team, we are quite pleased to see the number of undergraduates involved in research steadily increasing and all the efforts that have been put in by the different stakeholders to see this happen are commendable.

With that said, I hope you enjoy every second of your read!!!

LINDA ATULINDA,
MBChB IV

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF,
Research and Writers’ Club 2021-2022

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Call for Applications: HEPI Masters Support Fellowship

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Panelists L-R: Professor Elsie Kiguli-Malwadde, Professor Francis Omaswa, Professor Jehu Iputo and Professor Joel Okullo at the HEPI-ACHEST Health Professions Education Symposium, 17th June 2022, Makerere University.

Applications are invited for the Health Professional Education Partnership Initiative (HEPI-SHSSU) Masters fellowship programme support from postgraduate students of:

  • Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS)
  • Kabale University School of Medicine
  • Clarke International University
  • Faculty of Health Sciences, Busitema University

The programme will support graduates in their final year of training leading to the award of a Masters degree on any of the Master’s graduate training programs at the stated University for a maximum of 19 successful candidates.

The closing date for the receipt of applications is 30th September 2022.

Inquiries and Applications must be submitted to hepishssu@gmail.com

See attachment for more details 

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