Researchers Receive $3.6 Million Award to Improve Mental Health Treatment in Africa

Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH

Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH

A collaborative, international team at UNC has received a multimillion dollar award to study the mental health of people in Malawi and Tanzania living with a non-communicable disease, like diabetes or hypertension. Non-communicable diseases are the second leading cause of death in Malawi, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.S. National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) will provide $3.6 million of funding over five years. The study’s three lead investigators include Brian Pence, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases and scientific director of UNC Project-Malawi; and Jones Masiye, MBBS, MPH, head of Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at the Malawi Ministry of Health.

The Malawi Ministry of Health has a Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) and Mental Health Unit, which has been scaling up NCD clinics across the country. Building off of this momentum, Pence said the team would work in Malawi’s non-communicable diseases clinics. Providers would be trained to screen for and manage patients with depression.

Bryan Pence, PhD

Bryan Pence, PhD

“We will also train providers in the non-communicable diseases clinics to follow up with patients to see if their depression treatment plan is working,” Pence said. “These providers will set benchmarks and make sure their patients are meeting them.”

The best practices learned from these interventions will be used to advocate for health policy changes in Malawi and Tanzania.

An important component of this grant includes capacity building for local investigators including short courses in implementation science and grant writing as well as opportunities for mentored small grants in mental health. “Given our experience with Fogarty sponsored HIV training programs, we are well positioned to expand our training model to mental health,” said Hosseinipour.

The Malawi Ministry of Health through the Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health Unit is promoting the integration of mental health into other chronic care clinics, said Masiye. This research project will complement the Ministry’s effort to achieve this strategic objective.

“Non-communicable diseases and mental health represent a double burden to the country’s health care system,” said Masiye. “Many people who have chronic illnesses like hypertension or diabetes also have mental health problems, which has a bearing on their adherence to clinic appointments and consequently on their medication.”

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