Researchers investigate mental health disorder research in countries of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

King’s College London

Examination of data reveals differences in ways that countries tackle mental health research

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The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an international organisation, consisting of 57 member states, works to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.

The countries that make up the OIC are currently suffering from an increasing burden stemming from mental health disorders. A team of researchers from the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences, led by Professor Richard Sullivan and Dr Grant Lewison, investigated the research outputs from these countries to compare them with the burden from different mental health disorders in different countries.

This is work has been undertaken as part of the UKRI GCRF funded RHC-MENA (Research for Health & Conflict – Middle East and North Africa) program to build research capacity and capability in conflict settings. Mental health is one of the core areas in this program, and Professor Cenzig Kilic, Consulting Psychiatrist at Hacettepe University, who the team are collaborating with is leading the programme in Turkey.

Although this program is focused mostly on the MENA region, the majority of health policy and funding for strengthening health systems is provided for by major banks such as the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) which covers all OIC countries.

In order to provide a better evidence framework for funding organisations such as IDB and OIC, the researchers examined a range of mental and substance abuse disorders research conducted by these countries over a ten-year period, ranging from 2008 to 2017.

Although the data is unreliable in some fragile OIC countries, what we do know is that mental health disorders are an increasingly important health burden, and for a few reaching European levels.– Professor Richard Sullivan, School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences

The researchers found a rapidly increasing amount of research in this area that had been conducted over the last decade, much higher than the world average. Some countries, for example Indonesia, are hugely increasing their research activity, whereas others such as Kuwait, had seen a contraction.

Iran and Turkey were the largest contributors to academic work across the OIC in mental health disorders. Most collaborations spanned across Europe, Canada, and the USA, rather than with other OIC countries. However, in other cases there was wide heterogeneity from countries such as Qatar who mostly (approximately 60%) choose to collaborate with Iran.

Overall, depression (unipolar) was one of the most heavily researched areas, although suicide was significantly under researched, relative to their mental health disorder burdens.

This work shows the strength of using objective methods such as bibliometrics to provide an evidence-based approach for healthcare policy makers. It highlights both strengths and opportunities for countries and collaborations to set their own research agenda.

In terms of impact, we’d be looking to inform the OIC health policy, as well as WHO, with their significant work in mental health.– Professor Richard Sullivan, School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Next steps are already underway, with the development of mental health research proposals in specific areas such as refugees being prioritised.

Read the paper published in PLOS ONE.

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