UConn Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

A young mother in Botswana speaks with a health worker. (Moses Mpata/Photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation)
A young mother in Botswana speaks with a health worker. (Moses Mpata/Photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation)

UConn announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Lisa Butler, PhD, associate research professor in UConn’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP), will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Optimizing Mother and Child Health and Development in Botswana.”

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) supports innovative thinkers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Butler’s project is one of 35 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 20 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Butler and other Grand Challenges Explorations winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of three critical global heath and development topic areas.  The foundation will be accepting applications for the next GCE round in October 2018.

Through this project, Butler will develop an approach to improve the mental health of pregnant and new mothers between 15 and 19 years old in Botswana. Between 19-25% of women in low- to middle-income countries suffer from depression during pregnancy, which can also have serious effects on the child. In Botswana, there are large numbers of young, single mothers, who lack support and are particularly vulnerable to depression.

Butler’s approach incorporates interactive group sessions mediated by trained community workers, informative text messages, and an SMS-based mental health screening tool. She and her team will develop the materials and format for their approach with support from a community working group of adolescent mothers and health providers to ensure it is culturally appropriate and addresses their specific needs. They will also incorporate a theoretical model designed to address the triggers and reduce the stigma of mental health disorders. Their approach will be field tested with 80 pregnant adolescents in Gaborone, Botswana to evaluate its feasibility and acceptability.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 1365 projects in more than 65 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.


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