16 October 2018

University of Makeni conducts research on psychological aid in the context of humanitarian crisis

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), as part of its continuous outreach efforts about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), shares this story related to Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, submitted by the University of Makeni, a UNAI member institution located in Sierra Leone. 

16 October 2018 - The University of Makeni (Sierra Leone), a member institution of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), recently presented through its Mental Health Program the findings of Psychological First Aid - PFA research conducted during a study that took place in the districts of Port Loko, Western Urban, Western Rural, Kenema and Kailahun. The research was done in collaboration with the War Trauma Foundation, the John Snow Institute (Sierra Leone), the Free University (Netherlands) and the Queen Margaret University (United Kingdom).

The Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the War Trauma Foundation and World Vision International. It is an important tool written for people in a position to help others who have experienced an extremely distressing event. It gives a framework for supporting people in ways that respect their dignity, culture and abilities, and has an evidence-informed modular approach for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of disaster and crisis to reduce initial distress and to foster short and long-term adaptive functioning. 

Rebecca Esliker, Director of the University of Makeni Mental Health Program, explained that the now concluded research study aimed to find out whether PFA strengthens the capacity for the provision of effective support to acutely distressed beneficiaries in the context of humanitarian crisis. It consisted of two phases: a qualitative interview study, looking back at how PFA was used during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and a randomized controlled trial to understand how training in PFA affects the skills, knowledge and behavior of health care workers.

During the Ebola Crisis, people from non-governmental organizations and the health care sector have been trained in PFA. After the Ebola Crisis the Ministry of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone in collaboration with WHO and other partners embarked on a PFA roll-out to all health sectors in the country in preparedness for the event of another disaster. A total of 408 health care workers in 6 districts participated in this study. Community Health Centre nurse Susan A Sesay, agreed that they have a role to play as medical practitioners to ensure behavioral change from the people and ensure there is more information.

The findings summary report shows an increase in knowledge of how to respond to a person in distress and give more appropriate response to hypothetical scenarios in those who were trained in PFA. The results of the research have already been shared at national and district level in Sierra Leone.