On 27 February-3 March 2023, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Discipline of Psychiatry partnered with the Africa Global Mental Health Institute (AGMHI) to host the annual UKZN Psychiatry Research Week. This training strives to conduct high-quality research that will improve mental health care meaningfully and enhance research training and capacity for emerging researchers; accessible to all staff and students within the College of Health Sciences, this year we took on a hybrid approach with the aim of broadening reach to include our international partners. The training included biostatistics, epidemiology, qualitative research, and scientific writing workshops led by a number of visiting faculty and research staff, described below.

During the morning sessions, Prof. Thirusha Naidu – Head of Clinical Psychology at King Dinuzulu Hospital and an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and Public Health at UKZN – and Dr. Mihoko Maru – Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Boston University Medical Campus-Massachusetts General Hospital Global Psychiatry Clinical Research Training program – co-facilitated a series of workshops focused on qualitative research methodologies, including the design, conduct, and analysis of qualitative research studies. Dr. Lawrence Were – Director of Research for the Global & Local Center for Mental Health Disparities in the BMC Department of Psychiatry and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College – also led sessions on writing a qualitative manuscript and best practices when grant writing. 

During the afternoon sessions, Dr. Rachel Oblath – Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at BUSM and Director of Methodology in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Medical Center (BMC) – and Ms. Tithi Baul – Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at BUSM and Director of Evaluation at BMC – co-facilitated a series of workshops focused on quantitative research methodologies, including how to conduct a literature review, writing a study protocol, data management and analysis, interpreting statistical results, and disseminating study findings through scientific manuscripts, conferences, policy briefs, etc.

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A number of visiting faculty also shared their current research during lunch sessions. Prof. David C. Henderson – Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Boston Medical Center and Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) Department of Psychiatry – delivered a lecture on Mental Health disparities touching on the role the healthcare and law enforcement systems play in perpetuating inequalities and injustices within mental health. The talk highlighted the impressive efforts Boston Medical Centre has engaged in which aim to address the disparities within the health system. 

Dr. Mohlopheni Jackson Marakalala – faculty member at Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and an Associate Professor at University College London (UCL) – Dr. Marakalala's talk titled "Intercepting TB transmission across the spectrum: a journey in biomedical research" briefly touched on the background of the work done by AHRI and his research on infectious diseases and TB. The TB research is centered around identifying disease determinants that will ultimately be utilised in the development of new tools. Dr. Marakalala shared a glimpse into his journey and the path he followed that ultimately led him to grace the numerous prestigious spaces he has worked towards. He looks forward to a research collaboration with the department of psychiatry.

Dr. Lawrence Were's talk focused on "The Case for Centering 'Health Systems Frameworks' in Global Mental Health Programming and Research,” which spoke to the need for health systems research to prioritise mental health. He delved into what makes up the health system frameworks and the thinking needed to ensure they function efficiency, effectively and at their optimum.

Dr. Kazione Kulisewa – consultant psychiatrist and Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Malawi’s Kamuzu University of Health Sciences –is one of four psychiatrists in his home country, Malawi. Dr. Kulisewa give a historical perspective and the current landscape of mental health in Malawi. The audience gained insight into some of the mental health challenges pertaining to underdeveloped services and outdated legislation within Malawi, as well as the great strides they have accomplished such as developing a Mental Health Policy in 2020, establishing research collaborations, and increasing capacity of trained psychiatrists.


Below are reflections from Dr. Phatheka Ntaba, registrar and participant in the UKZN Psychiatry Research Week.

“Synthesizing and comprehending evidence-based medicine is key for clinicians as this competency enables them to stay on top of their field and select the best available care for their patients.  Developing this competency, however, is not often the primary focus of undergraduate education in South Africa. This discourages healthcare workers from conducting research because they assume only scientists are equipped to do it. Few primary care physicians in South Africa participate in research.

During my time as an undergraduate, I was fortunate to participate in research, and thanks to my supervisor, my paper was published. However, I felt emotionally shaken and eventually scarred because of my inability to comprehend the terminology or make sense of the numbers. My sense of pride was dented. I ended up becoming a general practitioner who feared research because I didn’t fully comprehend it.

Then, as a registrar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I was informed that I would be required to submit a thesis or a published paper. My anxieties returned in full force. I knew that at some institutions the lack of research assistance makes it difficult for registrars to graduate.  This time, however, my superiors assured me that I would be supported throughout the process. Even though I attempted to believe them, dread prevailed. But they remained true to their word. Prof. Paruk initiated the process and encouraged me to begin. Then, she assigned me a supervisor, Dr. Narsi, who is very supportive. She continued to expose us as much as possible to research.

This year's research week featured a team from Boston University, which was organized by the University of KwaZulu Natal. We had a full week of presentations and exposure to research. We had Specialists Researchers, Dr. R. Oblath, DR T. Baul, and Dr. L Were, inspiring and teaching us. I attended the afternoon sessions of Quantitative research, and I was amazed by these knowledgeable women. 

To my surprise, I realised that I could do research because they made it very simple, thought-provoking, and understandable. They took complex topics (like statistics) and broke them down into interactive, engaging conversations.  By welcoming our questions with enthusiasm, they demystified research and scientific writing. It was even more amazing for me to see women who have done world-class research walking alongside us in our journey. They left us with invaluable resources to go back to if we get stuck. I am in awe of what these researchers have accomplished in a week and so thankful for their dedication and investment of their time.

Knowing now that I will be able to "stand on the shoulders of giants" as I pursue my master's degree has given me a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm. I realize I have support and that my goals are achievable. I'm excited to contribute to the scientific literature after research week.”