Research Fellow - Fixed Term Contract

Location
Kenya
Posted
Sep 11, 2020
Closes
Sep 22, 2020
Ref
144466
Organization Type
University and College
Hours
Full Time
Chartered in 1983, Aga Khan University is a private, autonomous and self-governing international university, with 13 teaching sites in 6 countries over three continents. An integral part of the Aga Khan Development Network, AKU provides higher education in multiple health science and social science disciplines, carries out research pertinent primarily to low- and middle-income countries and operates 7 hospitals (soon 8) and over 325 outreach clinics, all at international standards. It has almost 2,500 students and 14,000 staff. The University is both a model of academic excellence and an agent of social change. As a leading international institution dedicated to excellence and change, AKU operates on the core principles of quality, relevance, impact and access.

East Africa Institute

East Africa Institute's mission is to provide a coherent and impartial evidence-based platform for policy formulation, decision-making and action to address the challenges and harness the opportunities for adaptive and sustainable social and economic development while ensuring a resilient environmental resource base whilst promoting a culture of evidence-based approaches to design and formulation of policy. It provides a platform for interdisciplinary and integrated policy-oriented research that is both relevant to AKU academic programmes and the East African Community.

The Institute produces optimal solution options that are resilient and flexible across a range of plausible futures, drawing upon methods such as complexity and systems theory and scenario planning in order to fully understand the context and landscape within which choices are made.

Brain & Mind Institute

The Brain & Mind Institute seeks to build capacity in the domains of mental health and neuroscience. In collaboration with partners, the Institute will advance leadership capacity and support service delivery across East Africa and other regions served by AKU. The Institute supports: (i) a hub for scholarship, exchange, and action on mental health issues, and (ii) educational, clinical, and community-based programs. Research focuses on the context of today's youth in Africa and South Asia and programmatic offerings address mental health related issues, such as stigma and resiliency. The Institute develops new curricula integrating behavioral sciences and mental health for AKU's medical colleges and nursing education. A significant area of interest is the implementation of science-based programing in hospital and community clinics that translate new discoveries into prevention and treatment programs.

Area of Research for this Fixed Term Contract

Household Air Pollution (HAP) - a leading risk factor for premature death in low-income countries - is produced mainly by the incomplete combustion of polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting. In 2016, WHO estimated that about three billion people - 41% of the world's population, primarily in LMICs - used polluting cooking sources. The damage to health caused by such widespread dependence on polluting energy sources is severe and extensive: in 2016, HAP from solid fuel use resulted in an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths. This toll is equivalent to 6.7% of global mortality, greater than that from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. Of these deaths, 403 000 were among children under 5 years of age.

In many parts of the world, children are especially vulnerable to HAP because they spend a great deal of time in the home and with their mothers as the latter tend the hearth. Smoke emitted from burning biomass, coal, charcoal and kerosene to meet the basic needs of cooking, heating and lighting is the primary contributor to HAP. Burning these fuels in inefficient devices produces complex mixtures of contaminants. In dwellings with poor ventilation, emissions of fine particulate matter and other pollutants from stoves can reach 100 times the maximum exposure level recommended by WHO.

Long-term exposure to air pollution-particularly PM2.5 and CO levels-impedes cognitive performance, becoming more pronounced as people age (Lavy et al. 2012; Zhanga et al. 2018). PM2.5 has a larger negative impact on groups with higher rates of asthma while CO affects neurological functioning (Lavy et al. 2012). Decline in cognitive function can therefore affect memory and attention, which can result in forgetfulness, inability to recall, and difficulty in decision making. Cognitive decline is also closely linked to poorer mental health (Kuhn et al.2019). Reductions in household air pollution will not only result in improved human morbidity and mortality outcomes but also upon cognitive performance (Shehab and Poe, 2019). A growing body of research similarly suggests that both prenatal and postnatal exposure to air pollution can negatively influence neurodevelopment, lead to lower cognitive test outcomes and influence the development of behavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as negatively affect children's overall mental and motor development (WHO, 2018).

There are high chances that communities of more polluted households (mainly rural and urban poor) will have, on average, worse cognitive ability than those living in homes with cleaner air. Further work is now required to better map out the effect of PM and CO concentration upon cognitive performance. Results from the mapping studies will provide the basis upon which intervention strategies may be designed. Achieving universal access to clean, safe household energy is a top priority on the global sustainable development agenda, reflected in SDG 7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Similarly, substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from inter alia hazardous chemicals and air is a key target of SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. Both goals can be achieved simultaneously through common strategies and interventions at policy level, within households and other stakeholder engagement and actions. Little has been published on cognitive performance and mental health and factors that could influence it among children in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, limited number of PM and CO studies and data exist upon which meaningful health mapping studies may be planned and executed in the region, and thirdly, although its responsible for many more deaths each year than the dreaded malaria, air pollution-related health impacts have not received the high-profile they deserve on national and even regional (RECs and African Union) political agendas. Resolving these knowledge gaps is a necessary first step towards transforming the region's societies towards equity and resilience.

The East Africa Institute and the Brain & Mind Institute of the AgaKhan University seek to recruit a Research Fellow to study therelationship between Household Air Pollution (HAP) and cognitivedevelopment / mental health of children and develop and disseminateappropriate interventions.

This positon reports to the Director, EastAfrica Institute, Aga Khan University, with the expectation of jointaccountabilities to both the research interests of the East AfricaInstitute and the Brain & Mind Institute.

Responsibilities
  • Review literature on impact of HAP (particularly PM and CO) on child health in general and neurodevelopment/mental health in particular. He/she will also identify documented social, technical or policy interventions in the LMICs paying special attention to barriers and enablers. He/she will also assess implications of these preliminary findings for Africa's development and recommend knowledge gaps for further research.
  • Conduct interviews with relevant experts and individuals who can share insights on the nature, scope and implications of HAP as well as the current situation pertaining to mitigation strategies in an African context.
  • Develop a methodology for mapping household PM and CO emissions upon cognitive performance and mental health in Kenyan children and propose a pilot study.
  • Organize a workshop to discuss the findings of literature review and interviews and the conceptual framework of a mapping study with key stakeholders for input/validation. The objective of the workshop should include the enrichment of understanding about these issues across relevant student groups in the region.
  • Prepare a submission to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child-an institution executing the African Children's Charter.
  • Review and submit recommendations to the Committee reviewing the Kenya National Biofuel Strategy.
  • Using a health rights lens, and building on the pre-identified research gaps determined from the literature review and interviews, develop a research proposal for submission to the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa.
  • Identify key activities, institutions and policy processes, that EAI and BMI should be interacting with to enhance influence towards realizing ideals enshrined in SDG3 and SDG7.
  • Set up a google database of HAP/mental health literature gathered during the study.
  • Track and support opportunities for future research specialization in this area.
  • Explore opportunities to attract new grants and new students in this area.


Requirements
  • Master's Degree in Public Health or Environmental Health or similar qualifications
  • Ability to work effectively within a collegial system of governance, recognizing the roles and responsibilities of colleagues, faculty members;
  • Ability to demonstrate strategic thinking, creativity, diplomacy and Emotional Intelligence.
  • Excellent writing and research skills