Addressing social factors in chronic disease in India

Posted on 4 May 2018

The International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR) hosted a visit from its collaborators from India and Australia in April as part of a project developing social interventions for people with chronic disease in India.

Funded by a grant from the British Council’s UK-India Education and Research Initiative, ICMHSR is supporting the development of social work research capacity at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kerala, India.

Through a programme of exchange visits, ICMHSR staff and collaborators are providing training, support and supervision for faculty members and researchers at Rajagiri to undertake a programme of research leading to the development of social interventions to assist people with chronic disease in Cochin, Kerala, to access appropriate treatment, care and support.‌

The number of people with diabetes and hypertension in India is growing and is becoming a significant public health concern. People with a chronic disease and a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, face greater barriers to accessing appropriate treatment due to stigma and the costs of medical care. This project is exploring how social workers can potentially help to support people to access treatment and obtain access to other local resources which can assist with the management of their chronic condition.

In April, ICMHSR Director, Professor Martin Webber, hosted a week-long visit from five members of the Rajagiri project team: Dr Saju Madavanakadu Devassy (Principal Investigator); Dr Kiran Thambi (Project Director); Dr Rajeev Selvaraj Prasannakumari (Additional Director); Dr Bindiya Abhilash (Systems Director); and Ms Anuja Maria Benny (Project Coordinator).

They were joined by one of the project’s collaborators, Professor Lynette Joubert of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Dr Nicola Moran, Senior Research Fellow in ICMHSR , to provide training on scoping reviews, research ethics and good practice in research interviews. This training will be cascaded to other research staff and social work students at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, who are assisting with the research.

The project is supporting the Rajagiri research team to undertake a scoping review, a community survey and local feasibility work to develop a new social intervention. This will also involve reviewing the social work curriculum at Rajagiri and developing additional training to equip graduate social workers with the skills to deliver the intervention as required.

The collaboration, which includes experts from the World Health Organisation, will be hosting a global social work conference on Multi-Sectoral and Interdisciplinary Responses to Health and Well-Being to share learning from the project so far in January 2019 in Kerala. The project team will also submit abstracts to the 9th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health being hosted by ICMHSR at the University of York in July 2019.

“This project brings together ICMHSR collaborators from York, Geneva, Melbourne and Kerala to address the growing problem of co-morbid chronic disease in India”, said ICMHSR Director Professor Martin Webber. “By tackling some of the social factors which are associated with chronic disease and common mental health problems, we aim to increase access to treatment and support for those who are currently unable to access it. This may lead to the creation of new opportunities for social workers in Kerala to work within local communities, in partnership with local primary care and public health providers.”

“It has been a pleasure hosting colleagues from Rajagiri College of Social Sciences and the University of Melbourne at the University of York”, he added. “I look forward to our continued collaboration”.

The project continues until 2020.

L-R: Dr Bindiya Abhilash Rajagiri, Dr Saju Madavanakadu Devassy, Professor Lynette Joubert, Professor Martin Webber, Dr Kiran Thambi, Dr Rajeev Selvaraj Prasannakumari and Ms Anuja Maria Benny.

L-R: Dr Bindiya Abhilash Rajagiri, Dr Saju Madavanakadu Devassy, Professor Lynette Joubert, Professor Martin Webber, Dr Kiran Thambi, Dr Rajeev Selvaraj Prasannakumari and Ms Anuja Maria Benny.