Last week, the Regional International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in conjunction with the 19th Congress of the South African Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists and Allied Professions. Several faculty members from the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) and the Duke University departments of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology and neuroscience, played significant roles in the conference.
With the theme, “Nurturing our Future,” the conference focused on autism spectrum disorder and related neurodevelopmental disabilities; infants, children and families; and adolescent mental health and well-being. Petrus de Vries—the Sue Struengmann Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, director of the Centre for Autism Research in Africa and one of our primary South African collaborators—served as the Congress chairman and delivered an invited talk on autism spectrum disorders in Africa.
Africa was selected as a site for the conference for several reasons. The “treatment gap” for child and adolescent mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders is estimated at 90 percent, and limited research on child mental health is conducted in African countries.
Conference Participation Reflects Growing Interest in S. Africa Collaboration
Two years ago, DGHI established Cape Town, South Africa, as a priority partnership location, with a focus on building global mental health collaboration between Duke and University of Cape Town researchers.
Kathleen Sikkema, Gosnell Family Professor of Global Health and the director of DGHI’s Global Mental Health Initiative, is seeking to expand Duke faculty involvement in the initiative and specifically in the Cape Town collaboration. The strong Duke participation in this conference reflects a growing interest among Duke faculty in child and adolescent mental health in the global context.
“This interdisciplinary and innovative conference on child and adolescent mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders, convened for the first time in South Africa, has provided an excellent opportunity to expand our global mental health collaboration with the University of Cape Town,” said Sikkema. “DGHI’s contributions to the conference reflect our growing expertise on the mental health needs of children, adolescents and families. We look forward to working together to address this emerging priority in global health.”
Duke Leadership, Keynotes and Presentations
With financial and other support from DGHI’s Global Mental Health Initiative and Priority Partnership Location funding, a number of Duke faculty participated in the conference.
- Lauren Franz, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and global health, who’s currently based in Cape Town as part of a DGHI Faculty-in-Residence Program, was on the conference’s scientific organizing committee. She also led a workshop on interventions for autism across the lifespan, spoke in a symposium on early autism intervention in Africa and chaired a presentation in which conference co-chairs discussed autism in Africa.
- Geraldine Dawson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and past president of the International Society for Autism Research, delivered a keynote address on how early risk detection offers promise for altering the course of brain and behavioral development in autism. She also participated in the workshop with Franz on interventions for autism across the lifespan.
- John Curry, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology and neuroscience, delivered a keynote address on effective cognitive behavior therapy for adolescent depression or substance abuse.
- Eve Puffer, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and global health, gave a presentation on community-based implementation models for family-based prevention and treatment.
- Kevin Ramseur II, second-year Master of Science in Global Health student currently working with Franz in Cape Town, also attended the conference with support from DGHI.
The significant Duke presence at the conference reflects DGHI’s commitment to building support for child and adolescent mental health research and treatment in South Africa and other Sub-Saharan countries.
DGHI’s contributions to the conference reflect our growing expertise on the mental health needs of children, adolescents and families.Kathleen Sikkema, Gosnell Family Professor of Global Health