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Transforming African mental health education

12 November 2010

King’s Health Partners (KHP) is part of an international consortium, led by the University of Zimbabwe, that has been awarded $1.7 million USD to enhance the mental health education and research capacity in Zimbabwe.

The project is funded by President Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and by the US National Institutes of Health and is linked to a further $10 million USD Medical Education Partnership Initiative award to Zimbabwe for HIV/AIDS education. King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry is leading the programme for King’s Health Partners.

KHP Principal Investigator, Dr Melanie Abas, senior lecturer in the Centre for Global Mental Health, a collaborative initiative with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: 'We are excited and honoured to have this opportunity to work with the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences (UZCHS) to meet the mental health education and research capacity needs of the country. We are building on long-standing linkages with UZCHS Department of Psychiatry. Their goal is to break the cycle of declining medical education, foster talent, and expand and retain mental health professionals.'

Through Improving Mental Health Education and Research Capacity in Zimbabwe (IMHERZ), the mental health curriculum at UZCHS will be reviewed and enhanced to utilise team-based, problem-based and community-based learning methods and to boost training in basic sciences and research methodology. Mentored training fellowships for post-graduates will be established. Through direct linkage to the large program award for HIV/AIDS education, IT infrastructure and information services will also be transformed at UZCHS increasing access to online resources and emerging technologies.

Collaborator Dr Amy Iversen, also from KHP added: 'We very much look forward to contributing to a sustainable, relevant, psychiatry curriculum at the leading medical training institution in Zimbabwe, as well as to training one or more PhD students here. As the program is implemented, we hope there will be opportunities for interested faculty at KHP to participate in teaching and clinical and research mentorship.'

Dr Abas continues: 'Ours is the only MEPI award specific to psychiatry and we are pleased that the importance of mental health is recognised. As well as strengthening undergraduate and postgraduate training in psychiatry, IMHERZ will bolster treatment and research in HIV-related mental disorders.'

Professor James Hakim, Professor of Medicine at UZCHS and Principal Investigator for IMHERZ said: 'The UZCHS is privileged to be awarded this prestigious grant. The award has come at a very opportune time when the University is revamping academic and research activities. The grant will enable us to implement programs to improve undergraduate, postgraduate and faculty training in the areas of clinical management and research capacity, and in general to create a scholarly and inquisitive environment at the institution.'

'We must dramatically transform African medical education to increase the number of qualified care providers available and develop the scientific expertise needed for research and innovation,' said Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator at the Department of State. 'By engaging country health and education ministries, MEPI will strengthen national plans to improve medical instruction and bolster the overall health care delivery systems. As we transition PEPFAR-supported HIV efforts from an emergency response to a more sustainable effort, we need to develop the expertise necessary for evidence-based decision making on the local level. This expertise will empower countries to lead health programs and fulfill their responsibility for the health of their people.'

MEPI is investing $130 million over the next 5 years with direct awards to institutions in a dozen African countries working in partnership with academic institutions outside Africa. Eleven programmatic awards will expand and enhance medical education and research training in the field of HIV/AIDS. Eight non-HIV/AIDS awards will encourage the development of expertise in topics such as maternal and child health, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental health, surgery and emergency medicine. Over a five-year period, MEPI intends to provide up to $10 million for each programmatic award, up to $2.5 million for each linked project and up to $1.25 million for each pilot grant. A web-based platform will also be developed to allow all partners to share data and outcomes.

Non-communicable diseases, such as maternal-child health issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental illness, represent the fastest growing causes of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. We at NIH are delighted to join hands with our colleagues in PEPFAR to help build research and clinical capacity in these important areas of human health.

The initiative will be administered by Fogarty International Center of the NIH and the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The IMHERZ consortium is a partnership of faculty at UZCHS with faculty from King’s Health Partners, Harvard University, University College London, University of Cape Town and University of Bristol. IMHERZ was one of only two MEPI grants to have UK awardees.


King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre is a pioneering global collaboration between King’s College London, one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

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