I have worked since 2014 with colleagues at Africa Mental Health Foundation. Some of our research is provided below.
Stress, Diabetes, and infection: Syndemic suffering at an urban kenyan Hospital
The complexity of sickness among Kenya's urban poor cannot be dissociated from how social and health problems become syndemic. Increasingly diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are emerging among low-income populations that also are most afflicted by social stress and infection. This article examines how social stress, psychological distress, and physical illness among patients in a public hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, produce syndemic suffering, defined by lived experiences of syndemic clustering such as diabetes with depression and infection.We recruited 100 urban public hospital patients, of which half were women, and half had type 2 diabetes from June to August 2014. We administered written informed consent and collected anthropometrics and blood samples before we conducted lengthy mixed qualitative and survey interviews. We analyzed social stress in narrative interviews using content analysis and evaluated social and physical contributors to mental distress with frequency tables and logistic regression. We found that people experienced diabetes through a complex social and medical framework, where social problems were cause and consequence to psychological and physical suffering.Women's narratives revealed more social suffering as well as more mental distress and somatic symptoms, including multi-morbidities, than men's. People with diabetes reported not only concurrent anxiety and depression but also common infections, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Narratives reveal how NCDs concurrent with infections, and HIV in particular, produce financial challenges for patients, especially when HIV treatment is free and patients must pay out-of-pocket for diabetes care. Future studies should investigate syndemic clustering of infections and NCDs among low income populations at the population-level.
Kenya maintains an extraordinary treatment gap for mental health services because the need for and availability of mental health services are extraordinarily misaligned. One way to narrow the treatment gap is task-sharing, where specialists rationally distribute tasks across the health system, with many responsibilities falling upon frontline health workers, including nurses. Yet, little is known about how nurses perceive task-sharing mental health services. This article investigates nurses' perceptions of mental healthcare delivery within primary-care settings in Kenya. We conducted a cross-sectional study of 60 nurses from a public urban (n = 20), private urban (n = 20), and public rural (n = 20) hospitals. Nurses participated in a one-hour interview about their perceptions of mental healthcare delivery. Nurses viewed mental health services as a priority and believed integrating it into a basic package of primary care would protect it from competing health priorities, financial barriers, stigma, and social problems. Many nurses believed that integrating mental healthcare into primary care was acceptable and feasible, but low levels of knowledge of healthcare providers, especially in rural areas, and few specialists, would be barriers. These data underscore the need for task-sharing mental health services into existing primary healthcare in Kenya.
Universal health coverage, comprehensive access to affordable and quality health services, is a key component of the newly adopted 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Prior to the UN resolution, several countries began incorporating elements of universal health coverage into their domestic policy arenas. In 2013, the newly elected President of Kenya announced initiatives aimed at moving towards universal health coverage, which have proven to be controversial. Little is known about how frontline workers, increasingly politically active and responsible for executing these mandates, view these changes. To understand more about how actors make sense of universal health coverage policies, we conducted an interpretive policy analysis using well-established methods from critical policy studies. This study utilized in-depth semi-structured interviews from a cross section of 60 nurses in three health facilities (public and private) in Kenya. Nurses were found to be largely unfamiliar with universal health coverage and interpreted it in myriad ways. One policy in particular, free maternal health care, was interpreted positively in theory and negatively in practice. Nurses often relied on symbolic language to express powerlessness in the wake of significant health systems reform. Study participants linked many of these frustrations to disorganization in the health sector as well as the changing political landscape in Kenya. These interpretations provide insight into charged policy positions held by frontline workers that threaten to interrupt service delivery and undermine the movement towards universal health coverage in Kenya.