Syrian Psychologists
Throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, physical care for refugees, such as the provision of medical attention, housing, and sustenance, has been a crucial concern. Mental health, however, is another facet that must be addressed. In response, two Syrian psychologists have made the mental health of Syrian refugees their concern.

In 2013, psychiatrists Andres Barkil-Oteo and Hussam Jefee-Bahloul met at Yale University, according to Huffington Post. They quickly discovered they had many of the same interests — one of which being the desire to find a way to utilize their mental health expertise to aid Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Although the two had left their homeland of Syria for psychiatry training in the U.S. before the major uprising in 2011, they still felt very connected to the crisis and wanted to find a way to help from abroad.

In 2014, the two friends worked together to create the Syrian Telemental Health Network, an online platform allowing experts and specialists around the world to train and assist mental health workers treating Syrians. The primary purpose of this platform is to address the rise of mental health problems among Syrians and the difficulties Syrian mental health workers are facing in treating them, both of which are repercussions of the Syrian war.

The remote network allows mental health workers in Syria to upload case information as well as video and audio recordings of patients to seek direction and help from specialists worldwide. Typically, this U.K.-based network sees about 10 to 15 cases each month. Because of the platform, knowledge from resources worldwide is brought to Syrian mental health workers, which is pertinent since mental health care has been in short supply within Syria.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), even before the conflict broke out, there were a mere 70 psychiatrists in Syria serving 21 million people. Only two public psychiatric hospitals existed: one at Damascus that now operates at partial capacity because of security concerns and one in Aleppo that is now closed.

While the Syrian Telemental Health Network has aided many Syrian mental health workers and refugees, there are still many more Syrians facing mental health disorders in need of treatment despite limited resources.

In a recent article by CCTV America, it is reported that WHO estimates approximately 600,000 Syrians are currently suffering from severe mental health disorders while an additional 4 million are suffering from mild to moderate mental health disorders.

These two Syrian psychologists remain dedicated to their mission and are currently seeking out more funding to put more resources into the platform to increase the numbers of mental health workers and victims being helped.

Since leaving Yale University, Jefee-Bahloul became an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts and Barkil-Oteo joined Doctors Without Borders to provide psychiatric care to refugees in Greece.

– Alex Fidler

Photo: Flickr

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) often brings to mind images of conflict, famine, and disease. It is about as an unlikely home for the arts as one could find, and yet the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) aims to make it just that.

Its project is designed to bring art to the jungle and keep it there. As part of a partnership between Yale University, University College Ghent and the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne, the Institute set up shop beside a palm oil plantation in the heart of the rainforest.

It calls the effort an experiment with gentrification. The problem as they see it is that the art created about (or for) disadvantaged areas of the world such as the DRC is shipped off to cosmopolitan Western cities like New York and London and is not received in its native land.

The IHA believes by keeping the arts in the community, a culture can be transformed economically and intellectually from the bottom up.

In five years, the IHA hopes to have created an international arts center for artists and thinkers from around the globe to study, work and grow. Additionally, it hopes to continue researching the affects of keeping art near its source as opposed to exporting it to the West.

They claim art has the economic power to power investment and business around areas of cultural capital such as galleries and theaters. For the DRC and nations like it, this means that starting with cultural and artistic development might lead the way to economic and political stabilization.

This, undoubtedly, is a unique approach to solving the economic crises developing nations face in the process of modernization. However, the reason for keeping art at its source is not all economics.

The IHA website offers political reasons as well, arguing that “Art may expose the need for change in Nigeria or Peru, but in the end it brings opportunity, improved living conditions, and real-estate value to Berlin-Mitte or the Lower East Side,” the point being that the political potency and relevance of the art is lost in the Western gallery.

The IHA may have only just begun its project in the DRC, but it is already grabbing international attention. If it proves to be successful, perhaps it will signal a new model in the development of some of the world’s poorest nations.

Chase Colton

Sources: Institute for Human Activities, The Huffington Post
Photo: The Culture Trip

HIV Testing in India

A recent study by Brown University’s Dr. Kartik Venkatesh and Yale University’s Dr. Jessica Becker has proposed a simple, but potentially highly effective practice that could save millions of Indian lives each year by making a single – but powerful – change in its approach to HIV management.

India’s current landscape in terms of HIV/AIDS is unique. While the rate of prevalence is relatively low – 0.3% – because of India’s massive population, this equates to a huge number of people living with HIV/AIDS (the third greatest in the world).

One of the biggest problems facing India now is the percentage of the population that doesn’t know it is infected. Carriers unaware of their status increase the risk of spreading the infection exponentially, as they’re unaware of the risks involved in sexual activity and are not actively taking crucial drugs which suppress the infection.

What the researchers at Brown and Yale have suggested is mass testing of the population every five years. This would be a huge undertaking, unprecedented in scale. Yet India is eager to keep its HIV problem well managed, as shown by their success in maintaining their rate as low as they have.

The strategy makes sense not only from a moral standpoint but also in terms of potential economic gain. Using a measurement system that measures the potential financial value from extending lives (and thus extending the potential of an individual to work and actively contribute to the country’s growth), estimates for the plane amount to around USD 1,900 per year per life saved – offering massive returns on an investment into the plan.

As yet unadopted, this is only a proposal based on research. Indian officials have yet to react, though many believe the political will is there to see this plan implemented. The fact that this strategy has been viewed favorably by publications such as The Economist and The Business Standard shows its true potential, and that foreign aid, strategically planned, can admirably combine financial benefits with benevolence.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: The Economist, Business Standard