Africa Initiative Awards Pilot Grants

January 30, 2020

The Africa Initiative at Washington University in St. Louis has awarded in its first cycle, three pilot grants of $10,000 each to three projects.

The purpose of this pilot grant program is to advance collaborative research in the fields of health and human development and to forge meaningful research collaborations between faculty at Washington University and scholars at institutional partners in Africa.

“This pilot grant is our first move to connect and support faculty who are interested in preliminary research on the continent of Africa” said Benjamin Akande, Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs-Africa at Washington University in St. Louis. “We had a robust group of applicants and we look forward to favorable outcomes.”

Proposals were reviewed and evaluated based on the following criteria: level of innovation, research significance, approach, feasibility to accomplish its specific aims within a year, and potential to attract external funding. “We are very excited to see the level of innovation and collaboration among our faculty –especially from schools that do not normally collaborate in the traditional way” said Proscovia Nabunya, Research Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of the Africa Initiative.

The Africa Initiative awarded to the following recipients:

“Say No to Stigma”: Making Mental Health Visible among School Children in Rural Uganda

Ozge Sensoy Bahar

Ozge Sensoy Bahar

Penina Akayo Laker

Penina Acayo Laker

Team: Ozge Sensoy Bahar, PhD and Penina Acayo Laker, MFA

Current mental health services are severely under-equipped in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda reports that when screened in primary care clinics, 12 to 29% of children present with mental health symptoms.  There is widespread misconception toward mental illness and its etiology as well as stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, including children, which results in little or no intention to seek help.

The goal of this project is to develop a set of new, age-appropriate, culturally-relevant signage and messaging around mental health and stigma, to be used in Uganda’s primary schools. Grant funding will be used to develop visual solutions through a set of extensive creative workshops and focus groups with children, school administrators and teachers from two primary schools in the Masaka region of Uganda. Knowledge from this study will inform the development of a larger study to test the impact of messaging in school environments and children’s perceptions of mental illness and mental health stigma.

A Prospective Study of Rheumatic Heart Disease in Pregnancy in Ethiopia

Megan Foeller

Megan Foeller

Lewis Wall

Lewis Wall

Team: Megan Foeller , MD and L. Lewis Wall, MD; D. Phil

Rheumatic heart disease is a principal cause of cardiac disease in pregnant women and a major contributor to maternal death and severe morbidity in women in developing countries; however, data on rheumatic heart disease during pregnancy, especially in endemic countries such as Ethiopia, is significantly limited.

The goal of this project is to document the prevalence and current management of rheumatic heart disease among pregnant women receiving care at Ayder Comprehensive Specialist Hospital in Ethiopia. Grant funding will be used to collect data from pregnant women to prospectively determine maternal and pregnancy outcomes for women with rheumatic heart disease and to quantify their contraceptive uptake following pregnancy. The long-term goal is to improve early recognition of rheumatic heart disease; optimize prenatal counseling and awareness of rheumatic heart disease; and, initiate contraception among high risk women following pregnancy.

Building Collaborations and Increasing Access to Evolving Technologies through Drone-based Workshops in South Africa

Meghan Kirkwood

Meghan Kirkwood

Meghan Kirkwood, PhD, MFA, MA

Drones represent a new frontier in how humans are able to depict our world. Drone footage now forms a greater percentage of the arts and media landscape. Photographers and other media professionals are increasingly expected to have knowledge of aerial imaging technology. However, lack of basic training and the prohibitive cost of equipment, limit the utility of drone footage in developing countries.

The goal of this project is to increase access to high-quality training experiences and web-based resources by developing a sustainable institutional partnership between the Sam Fox School at Washington University in St. Louis and the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town. Grant funding will be used to: develop a series of drone academy workshops for early career arts and media professionals, planners and journalists; and, to develop a web-platform with instructional materials on drone operations, safety procedures and country-specific regulations, which will also address key barriers for African students and professionals interested in operating drones.