Courtesy of Ashley Haggaman

The Yale Institute for Global Health awarded the 2023 Spark Awards to four YIGH-affiliated faculty members conducting international research in global health.

The award — which is intended to serve as a “spark” for a larger grant proposal or a project significant to the faculty member’s career development — distributes up to $10,000 in funding to each of the recipients. The four recipients announced on Jan. 18 were Sarah Lowe, associate professor of public health; Sharon Chekijian, associate professor of emergency medicine; Ashley Hagaman, assistant professor of public health; and Fabian Laage-Gaupp, assistant professor of vascular and interventional radiology.

“The Spark Award funding is critical to the success of this project — I do not think that we could have launched this project without this support,” Lowe told the News. “We are hoping that, by successfully completing this project, our cross-national team will be able develop a proposal for a larger project that will be competitive for external funding.”

For Lowe’s project, she and her team plan to conduct a representative survey of children and caregivers served by Tumarere Mu Muryango, or TMM, a national program to support child development and wellbeing in Uganda.

According to Lowe, who is a clinical psychologist with postdoctoral training in psychiatric epidemiology, the researchers will be using the survey results to learn about the caregivers and children’s stressors, mental health related symptoms, psychological resources and the overall well being of the children at TMM. Using this information, they hope to gain insight into how to improve upon current interventions in place for preventing the transmission of intergenerational trauma.

“The project is important because it provides a preliminary understanding of the pathways from caregivers’ trauma histories to children’s well-being and factors that modify them,” Lowe wrote. “The findings could shed light on what factors might be optimal intervention targets to promote positive youth development and family functioning.”

The team will primarily be using the Spark Award grant to compensate research assistants, focus groups and survey participants in the project.

The team of researchers involved in this project, in addition to Lowe, include Lowe lab affiliates Jessica Bonumwezi and Audrey Huang, along with master’s degree in public health students Josiane Alix SPH ’24 and Amrit Sandhu SPH ’24.

Chekijian’s project involves analyzing the quality of pre-stroke hospital data in Armenia with the hopes that data collection and infrastructure can eventually be improved enough to affect clinical outcomes.

Her project builds off of her recent work with the Stroke Initiative Advisory Task Force for Armenia, where she worked to improve the state of stroke care in the emergency medical system, and her primary research interests lie in emergency systems care and prevention in low- to middle-income countries.

“We have been working to implement state of the art stroke care in Armenia starting at the emergency medical system all the way through post-stroke care,” Chekijian wrote. “The Spark Award will allow me and my colleagues to define and improve the current state of prehospital stroke care… [This] analysis will lay the groundwork for future quality improvements and important manuscripts.”

Haggaman’s proposed project involves utilizing Pakistan-based research and clinical efforts to redesign current western suicide prevention approaches and mental health promotion strategies so they are implementable in communities in Pakistan.

As a behavioral and implementation scientist with training in anthropology and public health, Haggaman explained that the lack of suicide prevention strategies is a particularly notable problem in Pakistan due to limited investment to finding solutions, unprecedented economic problems such as inflation rates and religious and criminal implications behind suicide in the country.

“We need to find appropriate ways to detect suicide risk [since] the strategies deployed here in the US may not be the most appropriate and effective,” Haggaman wrote. “We hope our team can start building decolonized strategies to approach suicide prevention that can be scaled in contexts with limited mental health services and high stigma.”

The main goal behind Laage-Gaupp’s project, which is a part of the larger initiative Road2IR, is to bring interventional radiology, or IR, treatment options to Uganda.

Laage-Gaupp explains that IR is an image-guided surgical procedure which allows surgeons to perform operations in any part of the body without large incisions. Procedures utilizing IR drastically reduce recovery time post-surgery and often allow patients to go home on the same day of the surgery instead of spending days or weeks in the hospital for recovery.

Road2IR began as a collaborative effort between Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, or MUHAS, the Yale Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, the Emory University Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences and other partner institutions in 2018. Researchers helped establish East Africa’s first accredited IR training program in Tanzania, according to Laage-Gaupp. He noted that this program was designed to serve as a blueprint for expansion to other countries. The team is now working specifically to bring IR teachings and resources to Uganda.

Laage-Gaupp explained that bringing IR treatments to Uganda would be especially important because of the high peripartum mortality rate in the country, which is up to 100 times higher than other “high-income countries.”

“We will place particular focus and urgency on establishing capacity to perform uterine artery embolization in the setting of postpartum hemorrhage,” Laage-Gaupp wrote. “This minimally invasive procedure is extremely successful in stopping bleeding after childbirth without having to remove the woman’s uterus or taking other invasive measures.”

Laage-Gaupp wrote that he planned to use funding for the project towards teaching trips and importing IR equipment to Uganda, where many American manufacturers may be hesitant to expand due to the small market and low profitability.

According to the Spark Award eligibility guidelines, grants are awarded based on the following criteria: innovation, feasibility, sustainability, anticipated outcomes and alignment with YIGH’s mission to improve worldwide health.

Jessica Kasamoto covers the Yale School of Public Health for the SciTech desk. She is a graduate student in computational biology and bioinformatics.