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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

UNC Gillings School Faculty Members Work to Improve Mental Health of Displaced Persons and Families in Iraq

Two faculty members at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health are working on special projects to improve mental health and well-being, particularly for families and displaced persons in Iraq.

Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, assistant professor of maternal and child health, and Dr. Dilshad Jaff, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and program coordinator for solutions to complex emergencies in the Gillings School’s Research Innovation and Global Solutions office, are leading a project on internal displacement, malnutrition and chronic disease risk among mothers and infants in Iraq, specifically trying to address the delivery gap for mental health and infant feeding in fragile contexts.

The project’s overall goal is to gather evidence needed to close the gap in delivery of integrative perinatal, maternal, newborn and child services to internally displaced and historically marginalized mothers and newborns in Iraq. They will gather baseline psychological, nutritional and infectious disease risk among mothers, infants and young children; information on the landscape of existing services for psychosocial, nutritional and infant feeding support; and information on factors that facilitate or hinder the uptake, fidelity and effectiveness of existing maternal and child services.

The results of the assessments will be used to develop specific action steps toward bridging the gaps between service needs and support. They will employ design thinking to advance the innovative implementation of community-based, evidence-driven support, which is responsive to the complex challenges in the local context.

As maternal and child health is the foundation of all population health, the team will be developing ways to disrupt the cycle of gender-based structural violence in the wake of crises in fragile contexts begins with protecting, supporting and nurturing holistic services. Their findings will provide a highly contextualized assessment of perinatal, maternal, newborn and child services, gaps in care and a roadmap for recommended action to address such gaps.

The two researchers also are examining mental health status and unmet needs for mental health services of the Iraqi adult internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in the Garmian region. To ensure that proper services are in place to address the mental health needs of IDP’s in this region, they will develop  a better understanding of the current psychological distress and PTSD rates among Iraqi IDPs. They also will evaluate the mental health care services needed.

An outcome of the study will be to identify risk factors in both pre- and post-displacement contexts so the most at-risk group for developing psychological distress and current and future mental health services can be identified. Study findings also may provide guidance for other countries hosting IDPs wanting to implement mental health care services.