Research Articles (Unit for Research on Health and Society)


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    A qualitative study on teachers’ perceptions of their learners’ mental health problems in a disadvantaged community in South Africa
    (AOSIS, 2019) Skinner, Donald (Medical research personnel); Sharp, Carla; Marais, Lochner; Serekoane, Motsaathebe; Lenka, Molefi
    Background: The combination of extensive poverty, violence and HIV has potential mental health impacts on children in Southern Africa. This article is nested in a broader study to evaluate the strength and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) among Sotho speakers, and assess the mental health status of children made orphans by AIDS. Objectives: The aim of this study was to describe the mental health problems that the teachers perceive among learners in their classrooms, to understand what the teachers saw as causing these problems and to identify potential approaches to address these problems within the school setting. Method: As part of the larger study, 10 teachers were purposively selected to write a report describing the mental health problems among learners in their class. These findings were discussed at two later meetings with a larger grouping of teachers to validate the findings and obtain additional input. Results: The teachers were concerned about the emotional state of their pupils, especially in relation to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, scholastic problems and aggression. These problems were felt to arise from the children’s lived context; factors such as poverty, death of parents and caregivers from AIDS and trauma, parental substance abuse and child abuse. The teachers expressed a desire to assist the affected learners, but complained that they did not get support from the state services. Conclusion: Many learners were evaluated by teachers as struggling with mental health issues, arising from their social context. The teachers felt that with support, schools could provide assistance to these learners.
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    School connectedness as psychological resilience factor in children affected by HIV/AIDS
    (Routledge, 2019) Sharp, Carla; Penner, Francesca; Marais, Lochner; Skinner, Donald
    Children affected by HIV/AIDS are at high risk for poor mental health outcomes. Social and psychological connectedness to school has been identified as an important resilience factor for youth affected by adversity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). School connectedness: Strategies for increasing protective factors among youth. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Defined as “the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). School connectedness: Strategies for increasing protective factors among youth. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), school connectedness has been shown to be associated with higher academic performance, increased mental health, and quality of life. However, few studies have examined school connectedness in sub-Saharan Africa, and none have examined school connectedness in relation to mental health in children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Further, existing studies have relied on self-report measures. Against this background, the aim of the current study was to examine orphan status, school connectedness, and their interaction in relation to child mental health by using a multimethod design. 750 children between the ages of 7–11, recruited through South African community-based organizations (224 AIDS/HIV orphans, 276 non-AIDS/HIV orphans, 250 non-orphans; 51.2% girls), completed measures of school connectedness; children, caregivers, and teachers reported on child well-being using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. AIDS/HIV and non-AIDS/HIV orphans reported lower school connectedness than non-orphans. However, results demonstrated significant relations between school connectedness and overall mental health regardless of group, suggesting that school connectedness buffers against negative mental health outcomes regardless of orphan status. This study identifies a strategic point of intervention to build resilience against the cascading effects of HIV/AIDS and poverty in children in sub-Saharan Africa.
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    Health system governance to support scale up of mental health care in Ethiopia : a qualitative study
    (BMC (part of Springer Nature), 2017) Hanlon, Charlotte; Eshetu, Tigist; Alemayehu, Daniel; Fekadu, Abebaw; Semrau, Maya; Thornicroft, Graham; Kigozi, Fred; Marais, Debra Leigh; Petersen, Inge; Alem, Atalay
    Background: Ethiopia is embarking upon a ground-breaking plan to address the high levels of unmet need for mental health care by scaling up mental health care integrated within primary care. Health system governance is expected to impact critically upon the success or otherwise of this important initiative. The objective of the study was to explore the barriers, facilitators and potential strategies to promote good health system governance in relation to scale-up of mental health care in Ethiopia. Methods: A qualitative study was conducted using in-depth interviews. Key informants were selected purposively from national and regional level policy-makers, planners and service developers (n = 7) and district health office administrators and facility heads (n = 10) from a district in southern Ethiopia where a demonstration project to integrate mental health into primary care is underway. Topic guide development and analysis of transcripts were guided by an established framework for assessing health system governance, adapted for the Ethiopian context. Results: From the perspective of respondents, particular strengths of health system governance in Ethiopia included the presence of high level government support, the existence of a National Mental Health Strategy and the focus on integration of mental health care into primary care to improve the responsiveness of the health system. However, both national and district level respondents expressed concerns about low baseline awareness about mental health care planning, the presence of stigmatising attitudes, the level of transparency about planning decisions, limited leadership for mental health, lack of co-ordination of mental health planning, unreliable supplies of medication, inadequate health management information system indicators for monitoring implementation, unsustainable models for specialist mental health professional involvement in supervision and mentoring of primary care staff, lack of community mobilisation for mental health and low levels of empowerment and knowledge undermining meaningful involvement of stakeholders in local mental health care planning. Conclusions: To support scale-up of mental health care in Ethiopia, there is a critical need to strengthen leadership and co-ordination at the national, regional, zonal and district levels, expand indicators for routine monitoring of mental healthcare, promote service user involvement and address widespread stigma and low mental health awareness.
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    Translating research into action : an international study of the role of research funders
    (BioMed Central, 2018-05-24) McLean, Robert K. D.; Graham, Ian D.; Tetroe, Jacqueline M.; Volmink, Jimmy A.
    Background: It is widely accepted that research can lead to improved health outcomes. However, translating research into meaningful impacts in peoples’ lives requires actions that stretch well beyond those traditionally associated with knowledge creation. The research reported in this manuscript provides an international review of health research funders’ efforts to encourage this process of research uptake, application and scaling, often referred to as knowledge translation. Methods: We conducted web-site review, document review and key informant interviews to investigate knowledge translation at 26 research funding agencies. The sample comprises the regions of Australia, Europe and North America, and a diverse range of funder types, including biomedical, clinical, multi-health domain, philanthropic, public and private organisations. The data builds on a 2008 study by the authors with the same international sample, which permitted longitudinal trend analysis. Results: Knowledge translation is an objective of growing significance for funders across each region studied. However, there is no clear international consensus or standard on how funders might support knowledge translation. We found that approaches and mechanisms vary across region and funder type. Strategically tailored funding opportunities (grants) are the most prevalent modality of support. The most common funder-driven strategy for knowledge translation within these grants is the linking of researchers to research users. Funders could not to provide empirical evidence to support the majority of the knowledge translation activities they encourage or undertake. Conclusions: Knowledge translation at a research funder relies on context. Accordingly, we suggest that the diversity of approaches uncovered in our research is fitting. We argue that evaluation of funding agency efforts to promote and/or support knowledge translation should be prioritised and actioned. It is paradoxical that funders’ efforts to get evidence into practice are not themselves evidence based.
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    Drinking before and after pregnancy recognition among South African women : the moderating role of traumatic experiences
    (2014-03) Choi, Karmel W.; Abler, Laurie A.; Watt, Melissa H.; Eaton, Lisa A.; Kalichman, Seth C.; Skinner, Donald; Pieterse, Desiree; Sikkema, Kathleen J.
    Background South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and interpersonal trauma. These co-occurring public health problems raise the need to understand alcohol consumption among trauma-exposed pregnant women in this setting. Since a known predictor of drinking during pregnancy is drinking behavior before pregnancy, this study explored the relationship between women’s drinking levels before and after pregnancy recognition, and whether traumatic experiences – childhood abuse or recent intimate partner violence (IPV) – moderated this relationship. Methods Women with incident pregnancies (N = 66) were identified from a longitudinal cohort of 560 female drinkers in a township of Cape Town, South Africa. Participants were included if they reported no pregnancy at one assessment and then reported pregnancy four months later at the next assessment. Alcohol use was measured by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), and traumatic experiences of childhood abuse and recent IPV were also assessed. Hierarchical linear regressions controlling for race and age examined childhood abuse and recent IPV as moderators of the effect of pre-pregnancy recognition drinking on post-pregnancy recognition AUDIT scores. Results Following pregnancy recognition, 73% of women reported drinking at hazardous levels (AUDIT ≥ 8). Sixty-four percent reported early and/or recent exposure to trauma. While drinking levels before pregnancy significantly predicted drinking levels after pregnancy recognition, t(64) = 3.50, p < .01, this relationship was moderated by experiences of childhood abuse, B = -.577, t(60) = -2.58, p = .01, and recent IPV, B = -.477, t(60) = -2.16, p = .04. Pregnant women without traumatic experiences reported drinking at levels consistent with levels before pregnancy recognition. However, women with traumatic experiences tended to report elevated AUDIT scores following pregnancy recognition, even if low-risk drinkers previously. Conclusion This study explored how female drinkers in South Africa may differentially modulate their drinking patterns upon pregnancy recognition, depending on trauma history. Our results suggest that women with traumatic experiences are more likely to exhibit risky alcohol consumption when they become pregnant, regardless of prior risk. These findings illuminate the relevance of trauma-informed efforts to reduce FASD in South Africa.