Pence, Hosseinipour to lead NIMH grant on mental health treatment in sub-Saharan Africa

September 28, 2017

Dr. Brian Pence

Dr. Brian Pence

Brian Pence, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, will serve as co-principal investigators (PIs) for a five-year, $3.6 million grant awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health to the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

Jones Masiye, MBBS, MPH, head of noncommunicable diseases and mental health (NCDs and MH) at the Malawi Ministry of Health, will serve as the third PI.

The project, “Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Partnership (SHARP) for Mental Health Capacity Building,” focuses on implementation science research and capacity building around mental health treatment delivery in Malawi and Tanzania.

Mental health disorders are among the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, accounting for losses in productivity of an estimated $16.1 trillion between 2010 and 2030. Despite the heavy burden of mental health illness, capacity for mental health treatment in most sub-Saharan African health systems is extremely limited. More than 75 percent of those needing treatment have no access.

SHARP, a partnership of research, academic and nonprofit organizations working with Ministry of Health representatives in Malawi and Tanzania, is expected to make a critical contribution to closing the mental health treatment gap.

“This is an exciting opportunity to use implementation science to really make a difference in mental health treatment in low-income settings,” said Pence. “We know a lot about how to deliver effective mental health care in a research study context, but we haven’t done enough to translate that knowledge into real-world conditions. SHARP aims to move the needle on the availability of quality mental health care in Malawi and Tanzania.”

An important component of the grant includes capacity building for local investigators, including short courses in implementation science and grant writing, as well as opportunities for mentored small grants in mental health.

“Given our experience with Fogarty-sponsored HIV training programs, we are well positioned to expand our training model to mental health,” said Hosseinipour.

“Noncommunicable diseases and mental health represent a double burden to the country’s health care system,” Masiye noted. “Many people who have chronic illnesses, such as hypertension or diabetes, also have mental health problems. This has a bearing on their adherence to clinic appointments and, consequently, on their medication. The Ministry of Health, through the NCDs and MH Unit, is promoting the integration of mental health into other chronic care clinics. This research project will complement the Ministry’s effort to achieve this strategic objective.”


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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