Mental health and psychosocial support (MPHSS) research in humanitarian settings: WHO-Elrha meeting

Published on 09/10/2017

On the 2-3 October, we jointly hosted a meeting in Geneva with the World Health Organization (WHO) sharing research findings from R2HC-funded studies on mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in humanitarian settings. The two-day meeting brought together the researchers; representatives from their in-country research teams and operational partners; humanitarian practitioners from the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) MHPSS Reference Group; WHO staff; and R2HC donors.

The meeting was an exciting opportunity for us to collaborate with WHO in convening a community of practice. In addition to sharing research findings, the group also discussed how intervention quality can be maintained in challenging humanitarian contexts, MHPSS evidence gaps, and opportunities for research uptake.

Prior to the meeting Dr Brian Hall, University of Macau, conducted a synthesis of the 11 psychosocial and mental health related projects funded by R2HC between 2014 and 2017. Mapping these proposals onto two international tools for MHPSS in humanitarian emergencies – i. IASC MHPSS Guidelines, and ii. IASC Reference Group MHPSS Mapping Tool for who is doing what where when (4Ws) – provided a snapshot of how these studies are contributing to ongoing psychosocial and interventional programming in humanitarian emergencies. It is clear they are generating new evidence on innovative methods of intervention delivery. Also notable is most interventions being researched are delivered by non-specialist care providers, which will further strengthen the evidence of the feasibility and utility of engaging these workers in treatment delivery in under-resourced settings.

Building on this initial analysis, it was fascinating to hear the research findings from those who had completed their studies, or progress towards completing the research from others, as well as challenges related to undertaking this difficult yet critical research. Presentations included:

Session Title Research Study
Research on scalable, popular, yet rarely researched interventions • Evaluation of child friendly spaces (Nepal, Jordan, Uganda) (K Savage, A Ager)
• Evaluation of psychological first aid (Liberia, Sierra Leone) (L Ruttenberg, A Ager)
Innovations in psychological intervention treatment delivery for adults impaired by emotional distress • Evaluation of a lay-delivered multi-component behaviour intervention (PM+) (Pakistan) (U Hamdani & M van Ommeren)
• Evaluation of multi-media-delivered ACT intervention (SH+) (Uganda) (W Tol & M Leku)
• Planned evaluation of guided app-based CBT intervention (Step-by-Step) (Lebanon) (M Harper Shehadeh & R El Chammay)
Integrating MHPSS with other humanitarian action • Evaluation of integrating MHPSS with nutrition (Nepal) (C Bizouerne & K le Roch)
• Evaluation of integrating MHPSS with disaster preparedness (Nepal, Haiti) (L James & S Koirala)
• Evaluation of integrating MHPSS with intimate partner violence prevention (Tanzania) (W Tol & S Likindikoki)
Innovations in psychological intervention treatment delivery for children or adolescents impaired by emotional distress • Planned evaluation of a lay-delivered multi-component CBT intervention (EASE) (Jordan) (R Bryant & M Ghatasheh)
• Planned evaluation of a telephone-delivered multi-component common elements CBT intervention (CETA) (Lebanon) (M Pluess)
• Evaluation of lay-delivered psychosocial intervention (Jordan) (C Panter-Brick & R Dajani)

In my role ‘waving the flag’ for effective partnerships within humanitarian public health research, a particular highlight of the two days was the opportunity to meet with partners from crisis-affected countries. It was fascinating to learn first-hand the value these R2HC-funded studies are having in building the evidence base to improve MHPSS interventions and transform health outcomes in their populations. It was encouraging to hear stories about the intrinsic added-value of research partnerships. Several researchers excitedly shared their positive experiences of collaborative working within R2HC-funded research teams, the new experiences and opportunities they’ve been exposed to, and the capacity and expertise that has been built amongst each member of the research team as a result.

In addition to the presence of local research partners, the active involvement of IASC MPHSS Reference Group members at the meeting was particularly significant. Many remarked how rare it is for academic researchers and humanitarian practitioners to come together at a joint meeting, and how this ‘community of practice’ meeting provided an important forum for sharing research findings with the practitioner community and discussing key issues around research uptake, such as fidelity and cost-effectiveness.

We would like to extend their special thanks to the World Health Organization, in particular Mark van Ommeren and Melissa Harper, for all their support in the concept development, design and organisation of this joint meeting.

Written by Sarah Palmer-Felgate, R2HC Partnership Manager

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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