McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Advancing health in Africa: Nurturing psychiatrists in Uganda

Published: February 6, 2018
Sheila Harms and nursing students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology Department of Psychiatry, Inpatient Unit.
Sheila Harms and nursing students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology Department of Psychiatry, Inpatient Unit.

This is part three of a six-part feature on members of the Faculty of Health Sciences advancing human health with partners in Africa.  

Three times a year, a small group of McMaster University psychiatry faculty and residents travels to Uganda for a shared learning experience at the psychiatric hospital at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).

This is one aspect of a collaborative partnership in postgraduate psychiatry training between McMaster and MUST called McMUST, established in 2014 by Sheila Harms BHSc '97 and MD '03, who has previously racked up years of individual psychiatry efforts in Zambia and Uganda.

Harms is the program director for postgraduate psychiatry training in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, as well as a newly-minted adjunct associate professor at MUST.

"There are only two programs in Uganda that teach postgraduate psychiatry residents despite the country having the same population as Canada," says Harms, who did part of her post-graduate residency in Uganda.

"Through McMUST, McMaster faculty join MUST faculty to teach, while our residents join their residents for learning in a very different setting."

Harms says there is a strong willingness to develop psychiatrists in Uganda, but a lack of resources.

"They are already doing a lot of good work, so we are simply adding to the critical mass to get the effort off the ground," she says.

Harms says in addition to bolstering Ugandan postgraduate psychiatry training, the collaboration also gives McMaster residents valuable training.

"Our residents tell me it is an experience that alters not only their professional perspective, but their personal identity within psychiatry," she says, noting the initiative is resident driven under her guidance.

"Ninety per cent of the Ugandan population accesses traditional healers for mental health problems. The popular discourse rejects the Western notion that mental health can be treated by medicine. Those who are coming to the hospital are a small minority, so by the time they do, the acuity and severity of the illness is incredible, with co-morbidities of infectious disease and other injuries."

The McMUST initiative includes a bi-weekly Skype call between the residents and faculty, as well as collaborative research projects by the residents.

Harms is currently working towards extending the McMaster visits from two weeks to a month. Future plans also include extending the program to develop an interdisciplinary focus.

Mike
Dr. Achille Bapolisi and Dr. Mike Brown during a community psychiatry outreach visit in rural Western Uganda.

Read other articles in this series:

05/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Building the first medical school in Namibia
05/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Using rehabilitation to help those living with HIV in Zambia
06/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Nurturing psychiatrists in Uganda
06/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Supporting healthy life trajectories in South Africa
07/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Mentoring subspecialists from Uganda in Hamilton
07/02/2018 - Advancing health in Africa: Giving pregnant women the right to safe deliveries in Uganda

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