Global Health Seed Grants

Photo courtesy of Stephan Schwander

Each year, with support from Rutgers Global, the Rutgers Global Health Institute awards Global Health Seed Grants to faculty conducting collaborative, interdisciplinary activities that will impact the health of communities at home and around the world.

Through these grants, we aim to help faculty pursue new ideas and to seed expanded research and funding.

The grants are available to Rutgers faculty across all campuses and fields of study, with five projects awarded up to $10,000 each for a one- or two-year period. Each project is awarded in one of two categories:

  1. Education, Training, and Capacity Building
  2. Research

Below are summaries of projects that were awarded in April 2018 for implementation beginning in July 2018.

Support for Education, Training, and Capacity Building

Building Capacity for Integrated Behavioral Health Care in the Dominican Republic

Susan Caplan, PhD, MSN, APRN-BC, Rutgers School of Nursing

Collaborative Partners: Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Ministry of Public Health, Dominican Republic; University Autónoma de Santo Domingo; University of Massachusetts

Major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders are among the leading causes of disability worldwide, and poverty is a major risk factor for MDD. In the Dominican Republic, one of the poorest countries in Latin America with a poverty level of 42 percent, depression and anxiety are rarely treated until a person is severely ill and unable to perform daily activities. This project, which builds upon an ongoing collaboration between Rutgers, University Autonoma de Santo Domingo, and the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Public Health, is focused on improving existing efforts to integrate behavioral health services in primary care. Among the major barriers to such integration are absence of a universal means of screening and identifying behavioral health issues, stigma among primary care providers toward people with depression and other behavioral health disorders, and lack of training to monitor clinical outcomes. This seed grant will be used to develop a screening, identification, and referral system for depression and anxiety; train primary care providers in collaborative care models and communication with patients with behavioral health disorders; and conduct follow-up, monitoring, and outcomes evaluation of patient and provider adherence to behavioral health service delivery innovations. With these interventions, we aim to strengthen access to care for behavioral health disorders in a high-risk, underserved population.

Discovering Antimicrobials from Nature: Education and Capacity Building in Indonesia

Ilya Raskin, PhD, Department of Plant Biology, Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences

Collaborative Partners: Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences; Universitas Nasional

Millions of people in developing countries die each year from tropical infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the western pharmaceutical industry has not focused on treating these diseases, and available drugs are often costly and ineffective. Over the last 15 years, Rutgers scientists have developed and extensively tested Screens-to-Nature (STN) technology that relies on very low-cost, field-deployable assays to effectively detect pharmacologically active compounds in plants and other natural sources. By transferring this technology to scientists and students from Universitas Nasional and Universitas Palangka Raya, two leading Indonesian universities already collaborating with Rutgers, we will facilitate the discovery of natural antimicrobials in a biodiversity-rich yet poorly explored region of the world. This seed grant will be used to conduct an STN training workshop at the Rutgers-operated Tuanan Orangutan Research Station located in Central Kalimantan; establish sustainable STN-based research at this location; provide research training and capacity building for local communities and universities; and develop opportunities for significant international funding. Through these efforts, we will lay the foundation for a long-term collaboration between Rutgers faculty and Indonesia in the area of naturally derived products and human health.

Support for Research

Exploring the Role of Women’s Sanitation Practices on Physical and Mental Health: A Pilot Study in Mathare Valley, Kenya

Francis Barchi, PhD, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

Collaborative Partners: University of Nairobi, Village Voices

Inadequate access to safe sanitation is associated with negative health outcomes for women around the world, but is a particularly persistent problem for women living in informal settlements. Women in settlements often only have access to unhygienic and unsafe toilets, increasing their risk of contracting infections and/or risking violence when they use such facilities. This pilot study involves a quantitative assessment of sanitation-related health outcomes for women in Mathare Valley informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. In conjunction with Village Voices, a local community-based organization in Kenya, we will conduct household-level surveys with 550 women to capture information on a range of self-reported health indicators that may be associated with women’s sanitation practices in informal settlements. These indicators include mental health, sanitation- and menstrual hygiene-related illnesses and conditions, and experiences of non-partner violence. Findings will support future grant proposals to build on this work in conjunction with women’s health clinics in Kenya.

Strengthening Vegetable Value Chains for Improved Nutrition in a Kenyan Slum

Shauna Downs, PhD, Department of Health Systems and Policy, Rutgers School of Public Health

Collaborative Partners: Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences; Mirror of Hope

Kenya is currently battling multiple burdens of malnutrition. Increasing the consumption of African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) has the potential to help address malnutrition, particularly among vulnerable populations living in urban slums. This study will provide a sample of 20 women in Kibera, a large urban slum in Nairobi, with the inputs and extension support needed to grow AIV micro-plots in two Kibera schools. Using a combination of value chain analysis and consumer surveys, we will identify the incentives and disincentives for producing and consuming AIVs; identify bottlenecks in the AIV value chains and potential solutions to improve their availability, affordability, and acceptability; and examine AIV preferences and consumption patterns among 200 Kibera consumers. The findings of this study will inform the scale-up of AIV production in Kibera, as well as the development of a package of interventions aimed at improving their availability, affordability, and acceptability.

Development of Valid and Reliable Dietary and Physical Activity Assessments for a Birth Cohort Study in Kathmandu, Nepal

Shristi Rawal, PhD, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers School of Health Professions

Collaborative Partners: Rutgers School of Public Health; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Kathmandu University

In Nepal, rates of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes have been rising rapidly against a backdrop of limited health care infrastructure and resources. Because accumulating evidence suggests that predisposition to these diseases begins as early as in utero, pregnancy may be an opportune time for prevention and early intervention. While the Nepalese have many traditional beliefs and practices surrounding diet and physical activity during pregnancy and postpartum, research examining their impact on pregnancy and infant outcomes is sparse. Establishing an urban birth cohort study in Nepal will provide a unique opportunity to examine risk factors of pregnancy complications and the intergenerational influences of diet and lifestyle during pregnancy on the country’s growing epidemics of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. The goal of this pilot project is to lay the necessary groundwork for such a study by developing valid and reliable dietary and physical activity assessments that are suitable for use in a Nepalese birth cohort, and by demonstrating the need and feasibility of implementing a longitudinal birth cohort study in an urban hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal.