New projects in global health

With seed funding from the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID), Dr Simon Rushton and colleagues are beginning two new projects in the field of global health politics.

Critical approaches to Global Mental Health

In the first, Dr Rushton will be collaborating with Dr. China Mills from the School of Education, Dr Alison Howell from Rutgers University in the United States and a new postdoctoral student to be appointed in the School of Education on a project examining the growth of the ‘Global Mental Health’ movement within contemporary international development debates

Global Mental Health advocates have pointed to the fact that mental health has often been overlooked in international deVelopment, and have argued for it to be made a global priority on the basis that the burden of mental illness is a “a significant impediment to the achievement of national and international development goals”. In particular they have called for the ‘scaling up’ of access to mental health services globally, and especially in low and middle-income countries.

The framing of psychosocial disability as “one of the most pressing development issues of our time” is based on a series of claims about the positive association between poverty and mental health problems. Yet there remains little conclusive, and sometimes conflicting, evidence about the nature, direction and mechanisms of the mental health-poverty nexus, which is usually conceptualized as a vicious cycle.

There are also debates around the ways in which human rights are balanced in the attempt to scale up treatment (for example, the right to treatment features heavily in Global Mental Health advocacy, but the right to refuse potentially harmful treatments is generally absent); the globality versus the locality of mental wellbeing; and the globalization of mental health service models from the global North to the South as a form of neo-colonialism.

With the global Sustainable Development Goals (which include mental health) agreed but planning still ongoing as to how they will be achieved, we are at a critical juncture in terms of the shape that future global mental health interventions will take. The aim of this project is to position SIID as a hub for informing contemporary policy debate on this pressing issue, bringing together global health (including infectious disease), mental health, and international development expertise, and pursuing much needed critical social science perspectives.

Health system resilience and the Nepal earthquake

In the second project, Dr Rushton is collaborating with Professor Bhimsen Devkota from Tribhuvan University in Nepal and Dr Julie Balen from the School of Health and Related Research on a pilot project seeking to investigate the resilience of the healthcare system in Nepal following the huge earthquake that struck the country in 2015.

It is generally expected that following major natural disasters such as earthquakes – especially when they occur in poorer countries – there will be major outbreaks of infectious disease. This had been seen in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and most expected to see it again in Nepal. Yet in the Nepal case this did not happen.

We currently have little understanding of why some disasters lead to disease crises while others do not, nor of what makes some public health systems ‘resilient’ while others are less so. This project will involve research in Kathmandu and one of the Districts most affected by the 2015 earthquake to examine the factors that might account for this in the Nepal case – some of which might be about the health system itself, whereas others might be about individual and community behaviours. The aim is to learn lessons from the Nepal earthquake which could be utilised in reconstruction within the country, and elsewhere.

For more information on either of these project, contact Dr Simon Rushton:

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