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Scottish university awarded £3.5m grant to promote health services in fragile settings

Posted: 18th July 2017

SONY DSCA £3.5million research grant has been awarded to global health experts at Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh to strengthen mental health care and treatment of diabetes and heart disease in countries with weak health systems.

The grant awarded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will help researchers in QMU’s Institute for Global Health and Development work with colleagues in Lebanon and Sierra Leone where the ravages of war, civil unrest and the impact of the refugee crisis present huge challenges to the delivery of these vital services. This is one of only 13 NIHR Global Health Research Units that was granted funding (in this round of grant distribution) across the UK, with four grants being awarded to Scottish institutions.

The research team will look at ways of strengthening the resilience of health workers and clinics, and the work of local community groups, to develop new ways of providing vital services in even the most fragile of circumstances. According to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks, strokes, cancers and diabetes kill 38 million people a year with almost three quarters of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Mental health issues create a huge burden of suffering in countries troubled by instability.

Professor Alastair Ager, Director of QMU’s Institute for Global Health and Development, explained: “Promoting good health and delivering effective health services in countries affected by years of unrest or adversity is a challenging task. But building on the relationships we have developed with researchers and health leaders in Lebanon and Sierra Leone we have an opportunity to develop innovative approaches to address these challenges. If we find ways of delivering these services in these countries, we could learn lessons to share in other fragile situations.”

The Institute for Global Health and Development at QMU is recognised as a world leader in two major areas of research – health systems and mental health provision. This research grant will bring together these two major strands. The £3.5m grant will allow QMU to collaborate with College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) at the University of Sierra Leone, and the Global Health Initiative at the American University of Beirut.

Professor Ager concluded: “This important research builds on ideas developed as part of our ReBUILD consortium which focused on the study of post conflict health systems recovery in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Cambodia, and in an ongoing project funded by the Wellcome Trust and UK Aid looking at the resilience of the health care system after the influx of refugees from Syria to neighbouring countries. We are delighted to continue to work in partnership with colleagues in Beirut and Sierra Leone, who will be key to making this research have real influence on the lives of people in these countries facing the growing challenges of mental ill-health and non-communicable disease.”

Dr Fiona Coutts, Dean of Health Sciences at Queen Margaret University, said: “This is a significant grant which will help to impact the lives of people who have been affected by traumatic situations in fragile countries. Importantly, this work also has the potential to improve health outcomes for communities across many different countries. It confirms QMU’s excellent reputation in global health and development, and strengthens its ambition of being a university of ideas and influence.”

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