Multimillion-rand research award to UKZN's scientists for cutting-edge study

Issued by University of KwaZulu-Natal
KwaZulu-Natal, Jun 19, 2019

Scientists from UKZN's College of Health Sciences have received a R12.8 million grant from the South African Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Council UK/Newton Fund for a UK-South Africa Joint Initiative on Mental Health.

The award will fund the implementation of a three-year multidisciplinary global health research study on first-episode psychosis, in Msunduzi Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal.

Psychotic disorders are common conditions (with a lifetime prevalence of four per 1 000) that contribute significantly to the global burden of disease and are associated with high morbidity, disability, health costs and lost economic productivity.

First-episode psychosis, otherwise known as early psychosis, is often frightening, confusing and distressing for the person experiencing it and difficult for his or her family to understand. The majority of people with these disorders live in low and middle income countries, where outcomes are particularly poor due to resource scarcity, limited access to care, and a lack of understanding of the types of care that are most effective.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, said: "I would like to congratulate the Principal Investigators, Professors Chiliza and Burns, and the whole team for securing the grant. Mental health has been identified as one of our research focus areas. We are therefore very excited about the news of this grant, but most of all, we are looking forward to the impact that this research will have on the lives of people, and especially mental health services. The expected benefits to patients and clients cannot be over-emphasised. We wish the team well and I assure them of support from the DVC's office."

The study: "PSYchosis MAPping in KwaZulu-Natal (PSYMAP-ZN)", aims to generate evidence that will improve understanding of psychosis within a sub-Saharan African setting by addressing the incidence rate, clinical presentation and associated risk factors of psychosis as well as the impact of the social, economic and physical environment on incidence rates, onset and presentation of psychosis in this setting. It will also assess the help-seeking behaviours and pathways to care of people with psychosis and their families or caregivers in this setting.

The study will take place with participants from Msunduzi Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, which includes urban (Pietermaritzburg), peri-urban (Edendale) and rural (Vulindlela) regions. This will allow the scientists to conduct comparisons across economically, socially and culturally diverse areas all undergoing rapid economic and social transformation, eg, growing urbanicity. Further, these analyses can be compared with data from UK and European studies.

Head of the Department of Psychiatry at UKZN, Professor Bonginkosi Chiliza and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Exeter, Professor Jonathan Burns, are the South African and UK Principal Investigators, respectively. Other members include Dr Andrew Tomita from UKZN and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (co-investigator); Professor Frank Tanser (consultant); and Drs Saeeda Paruk and Shamima Saloojee (Psychiatry). The grant will be managed by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

Words: Gugulethu Mkhize and Maryann Francis