Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
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Principal Investigator: Wietse A. Tol, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health


This study aimed to inform public health responses to humanitarian crises, particularly with regard to intimate partner violence (IPV) and psychological distress. The research team aimed to develop an intervention manual based on two existing interventions, integrating a focus on mental health with a focus on intimate partner violence. The team aimed to adapt the interventions for women residing in protracted low-resource refugee settings – making it shorter and lower intensity, and training lay protection workers to deliver this intervention to increase feasibility, acceptability, and sustainability.

The research initially sought to test the adapted manual in a Randomised Controlled Trial with up to 400 women who had a history of past-year intimate partner violence and who were experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress, split into intervention and control arms.  Tests would be conducted at baseline immediately after the delivery of the intervention programme, and then approximately 3 months after the intervention had been completed.  The project sought to increase knowledge on task shifting, and make possible improved operational research to strengthen knowledge and public mental health interventions by making available well-tested tools for screening, monitoring and evaluation.


The intervention manual was successfully developed following desk review, qualitative interviews, expert consultations, and an initial pilot of the intervention. Given an unforeseen regional refugee crisis and ongoing operational challenges, the research team decided to conduct a more detailed feasibility trial rather than pursuing a fully-powered RCT at this time. This feasibility trial recruited 311 women. In addition, an additional series of 29 qualitative interviews were conducted with key stakeholders (including intervention participants, facilitators, clinical supervisors, research staff, members of the community advisory board and representatives from partner agencies) to evaluate the implementation of the research and intervention procedures.

The study made available a number of research tools and gender-based violence intervention service mapping that could be used by UNHCR in Tanzania to strengthen both interventions and operational research (needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation).  The research improved the available knowledge on the relevance, feasibility, safety, and acceptability of implementing an integrated (multi-sectoral) mental health and IPV reduction intervention, implemented by community health and community services workers in routine service provision.

Key findings:

  • Significant enthusiasm was found for the intervention amongst intervention facilitators and participants
  • Using resources available in a volatile low-resource refugee setting, operational difficulties and multi-sectoral coordination were experienced that challenged the implementation of an intervention across different humanitarian sectors.
  • The intervention showed promise in its implementation but requires further adaptation before a rigorous evaluation can assess its effectiveness.

Key outputs:

  • Intervention manual designed
  • Trial protocol published as peer-reviewed article
  • Presentations at three scientific conferences – Sexual Violence Research Initiative, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Global Forum on Bioethics in Research
  • International webinar delivered (
  • Two dissemination meetings delivered with stakeholders in Tanzania
  • Three further peer-reviewed articles expected

Next steps:

  • Further engagement with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility group in the integrated intervention model
  • Work with the Ministry of Health in Lebanon to conduct formative research that may be used to inform the development of an integrated intervention adapted for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.


Article, Peer Reviewed Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Why local concepts matter: Using cultural expressions of distress to explore the construct validity of research instruments to measure mental health problems

Article, Peer Reviewed Gender-based Violence, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Examining implementation of an intervention to reduce psychological distress and intimate partner violence in a refugee camp setting

Article Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Improving humanitarian assistance across sectors through mental health and psychosocial support

Peer Reviewed Gender-based Violence

An integrated intervention to reduce intimate partner violence and psychological distress with refugees in low-resource settings: study protocol for the Nguvu cluster randomized trial

Peer Reviewed Gender-based Violence

Developing an integrated intervention to address intimate partner violence and psychological distress in Congolese refugee women in Tanzania

Peer Reviewed Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Addressing culture and context in humanitarian response: preparing desk reviews to inform mental health and psychosocial support

Latest Updates

Developing integrated psychosocial interventions in refugee settings

Mar 2017

In our last post, we presented findings from a qualitative study where we explored the problems affecting Congolese women that have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) in Nyarugusu refugee camp,…


First pilot of Nguvu: What did we learn?

Oct 2017

In preparation for a more structured evaluation of the implementation of the intervention and research activities, we felt it was necessary to conduct a first trial run of the research…


Nguvu: Empowering survivors of intimate partner violence

Dec 2016

Nguvu, the Swahili term for strength, is the foundation for our project, which aims to improve psychosocial health and empower refugee women who experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). Spanning two…


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