First Global Health Postdoctoral Fellow to Study Adolescent Mental Health in Kenya

Published April 11, 2008 under Education News

The Duke Global Health Institute has selected Eve Puffer as its inaugural Global Health Postdoctoral Fellow. In order to enhance DGHI’s signature research initiatives and to cultivate a generation of leaders in Global Health research, the postdoctoral program will be expanded to up to six fellows within the next three years. Puffer, who completed her doctoral degree in clinical community psychology at the University of South Carolina, will research mental health programming needs and interventions for adolescent girls in Kenya.

“We know that there is high risk for sexual exploitation in this population, and we suspect a high rate of sexual trauma among the girls which may pose an increased risk for them becoming infected with HIV,” says Puffer. “I plan to do an assessment of the possible impact of poverty, gender inequality, and sexual trauma on adolescent mental health, as well as assessing other behavioral risk factors for HIV such as sexual risk taking. The research will look at constructs such as how hopeful the girls are about their future, and what symptoms of depression and anxiety in this population might pose barriers to their reaching their full potential.”

Puffer will do her research in the Muhuru Bay area of Kenya, tapping into the community relationships already established by the WISER education program that is supported in part by Duke.

“This work is sorely needed,” says Sherryl Broverman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biology and director of WISER. “My own preliminary data indicates that despite rampant sexual abuse and discrimination within the local educational system, girls predominantly blame themselves for their lack of academic success or social power

“Eve’s research proposal deliberately connects research to service; she will not just identify the mental health challenges of adolescent girls coping with illness, poverty and abuse, but will also develop a program to reduce the health burden and assess the effectiveness of her intervention. Her work embeds mental health analyses in an international development context and examines the role educational institutions (such as the proposed WISER school) can play in sponsoring community interventions. ”

Broverman will be one of Puffer’s co-mentors. The other will be Kathy Sikkema, PhD, who holds professorships in the School of Nursing, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and is the Director of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the Duke Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

“Having these two as co-mentors is a perfect balance,” says Puffer. “Dr. Broverman brings an incredible knowledge of community participatory research and the strong connections to the Muhuru Bay community. Dr. Sikkema, who has experience with HIV and mental health research in Africa, is able to provide the mentorship for intervention development from the psychological perspective.”

Sikkema is eager to work with Puffer on this project. “Effective community based interventions are best developed through collaborative efforts that involve service and research,” says Sikkema. “It is exciting to have Eve as the first DGHI postdoctoral fellow, as she will provide this perspective as a clinical and community psychologist committed to mental health issues among youth in global settings.”

Puffer is eager for her first visit to Kenya later this summer, knowing that she is embarking on a project that could change the lives of many people – including herself.

“I’m excited and thankful that DGHI has the forward-looking perspective that all disciplines have an important role in solving global health problems,” she says. “I think the opportunity for interdisciplinary work – bringing in areas that aren’t the traditional core of global health like epidemiology and public health – is a unique opportunity that Duke offers.”

For more information about the Duke Global Health Institute postdoctoral program, contact Jen’nan Read, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).