This proposal aims to increase research capacity to inform better strategies to reduce the mental illness treatment gap in Latin America. In order to achieve this aim we will establish a regional hub to carry out relevant mental health research and training to increase research capacity in the region. The core centre will be based at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) with two other major sub-centers based in Peru (Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia) and in Guatemala (Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama) and two satellite centers in Ecuador and Colombia. This network will be supported by strong academic centers in the fields of interest in the US and Europe. Two main activities constitute the foundation of our proposal: 1) a research component with two core research projects focusing on assessing the effectiveness of a mobile phone intervention assisted by an auxiliary nurse for the treatment of depression among individuals with chronic physical diseases identified in general medical settings in Brazil and Peru. One of the major barriers to the treatment of mental disorders is the sheer lack of trained specialized human resources. This intervention will address this problem by shifting tasks to this automated mobile phone intervention, thereby taking advantage of the huge penetration of mobile phones in the region. 2) a strong and comprehensive research capacity building program in mental health, targeted to a multidisciplinary audience of future researchers, who will form part of the critical mass needed and which will build upon the extensive experience in training of the participating institutions. The strategy will include greater prominence to South-South collaboration, focus on a multiplying strategy starting with the strengthening of solid research hubs and the gradual expansion to other sub-centers to form a larger research network, and more efficient methods of delivering training using technological platforms and capacity building that provide greater and quicker accessibility. A long-term vision of sustainability and continued research efforts beyond the support provided by this grant is at the backbone of the present application.
The implementation of is proposal will contribute greatly to enlarge the much needed research evidence-base to support the scaling up of effective task-shifted mental health treatment programs in Latin America and elsewhere. The research projects test more efficient and effective ways of delivering interventions through the use of innovative communication technologies. The research training would increase the critical mass of trained researchers and provide the supportive environment to retain these resources.