Since 2017, the Aga Khan University's International Internship Programme has been the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES) for Advanced Scholars (AS) in collaboration with the University of Calgary (UCalgary). This grant continues to support eight AKU-SONAM faculty for funding up to CAD 285K in their research on perinatal mental health. The grant comes as a result of the growing partnership between the two universities, who signed an MoU in October 2018 and collaborate on projects in nursing, arts, and sciences, and education.
Recipient of these awards, Sharifa Lalani and Kiran Shaikh, Faculty at the AKU-SONAM, shared insights on their research objective "Genetic analysis of psychosocial distress in pregnant women." They said that "through the QES-AS grant, we are able to produce a joint publication on this research area, which is focused on understanding the association between emotional distress during pregnancy, biological measures of emotional distress, and preterm (early) birth in a low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). These findings will help clinicians and the health care system develop targeted interventions and policies that can more effectively manage the emotional distress of women both in LMIC and in Canada."
Lalani and Shaikh received close mentorship from UCalgary’s Faculty of Nursing. Although reports and findings are still being developed, Lalani and Shaikh confirmed that the experiences this scholarship opportunity has provided them with confidence and relevant knowledge to conduct independent research. “It is the first time that this kind of research is being done in the developing world, and the outcome of this study will gain adequate awareness and skills on how DNA results can shape the mental health of pregnant women. This will be a very revolutionary set of findings for AKU,” said Lalani.
Another AKU-SONAM faculty and a QES-AS grant recipient Shireen Shehzad Bhamani involved in another project titled “Resilience, Depression, and Anxiety among Pregnant Women in Pakistan: Development and Testing of Intervention”. The study will evaluate the culturally and contextually developed SM-ART (Safe Motherhood-Accessible Resilience Training) module. Bhamani shared that "Having such close collaboration with research supervisors at the UCalgary was valuable. The biggest takeaway was building strong connections with mentors, other researchers, and even the communities". Through her QES experiences, Bhamani has gained more confidence in her research skills and applying for independent grants.
These three QES grant recipients have raised awareness of perinatal mental health at Regional Midwifery Summit. To conclude, the QES-AS grant opportunities have strengthened and supported AKU’s work on new research and address our research priorities. AKU views these placements as a clear opportunity to build capacity, expand and strengthen the existing partnership, and as a strategy for retention of scholars to facilitate ongoing professional development.