Ho, Shirley




Maternal Mental Health Uganda

This program is a collaboration between the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF), the government of Uganda, and the department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH).

PCAF is a US non-governmental organization that works together with public partners (generally governments) to strengthen mental health services in low- and middle-income countries affected by armed conflict. PCAF works in Burundi, Cambodia, Kenya, and Uganda. PCAF works by strengthening the skills of national mental health teams working in existing health care systems. In Uganda, PCAF has a 4-member management team in Kampala, and four mental health teams (five members each) in Arua, Gulu, Kitgum and Soroti. In addition, PCAF runs two research programs in collaboration with JHSPH, with a strong focus on intervention development and evaluation, and it has a project with former child soldiers.

Since 2015, PCAF has been collaborating with JHSPH and the Ministry of Health of Uganda to conduct formative research focused on maternal mental health. The key aim of this initiative is to facilitate the integration of a mental health component in the national maternal and child health care system. The main rationale behind the program is that mothers in post-conflict settings have critical mental health needs that need to be addressed, and that addressing these will have important further benefits for their families and communities.

This program has been implemented in Soroti in eastern Uganda. We are currently looking to expand the program to other post-conflict areas in Uganda where PCAF supports mental health teams. This will involve further formative research in new program areas, and continuing support of mothers in Soroti under the current program.

Global Health Mentor/PI: Wietse Tol, PhD

I travelled to Uganda for my GHEFP, where I spent two months working on a maternal mental health project. It was a good experience living in Uganda, I had worked abroad before so I was not too worried about adjusting to the lifestyle and culture. There was a good Hopkins network with current PhD students and previous Masters students who have graduated that were in Uganda. This made the transition and adjustment to living there easier and I had a support system in country. I was mostly concerned about the logistics of finding housing, getting my visa, and commuting etc. It was really helpful that the organization that I was working for had a guide prepared for interns. I did not have any major challenges adapting to the language as the local research team spoke English. I also stayed in Kampala where the majority of people spoke English.

As a part of this project I got to learn about and participate in building local research capacity. This was a different side of research I had not been exposed to previously. I also had the opportunity to participate in a training session at one of the research sites. This training session was one of the first steps to the implementation of the full intervention. Through this I saw what would be one of the final products of what I was working on.

The majority of my project was focused on the qualitative aspect (e.g. analyzing transcripts). I enjoyed this as I got to read the narratives of health care workers and what the major challenges were that women faced related to mental health. The approach of the particular project focused on allowing the local communities to define their challenges related to mental health, even if their definitions or terms they used differed from traditional definitions. Some of the challenges that women faced related to mental health care was stigma, access to services. This project overcame that by using local definitions and training community workers in screening for mental health. They also employed the use of a stepped care model, which would help link women with more resource intensive health services as needed. One of the most important things I learned about this project was engaging with the community to get buy in for the intervention. Allowing them to define what their challenges are and building interventions around that.

Working in country has been a great experience. I would encourage students to look into GHEFP projects. There are definitely challenges to working in country and adapting to a different environment, but it has rewarding and I learned a lot about research and developing interventions.


August 2022



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