May 22, 2015

Grand Challenges Canada (which is funded by the Government of Canada) has awarded Heartland Alliance International (HAI), a company of Heartland Alliance, a $265,000 grant to test and document how mental health care treatment for mothers who are survivors of sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) improves the cognitive, emotional, motor and linguistic development of their infants.

“We are dedicated to treating trauma and improving the mental health of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and are grateful to have the support of Grand Challenges Canada to pilot this innovative program,” noted HAI executive director Elizabeth Powley. “This initiative will help women heal and will promote the healthy development of infants and young children in the DRC. The advancement of a replicable model will inform best practices and service provision in other countries affected by war and violence.”

Women in the DRC continue to be subjected to severe physical and psychological trauma as a result of the ongoing assaults by rebel groups, militias, and rogue government forces. Women are especially vulnerable to violent attacks and abuses and have little or no access to services. Many expecting and new mothers who are survivors of sexual assault experience significant symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with traumatic stress. Left untreated, these women often find it more difficult carrying out normal daily functions, including caring for their newborns, which can have devastating effects on the infants’ health and cognitive development. Without adequate mental health services, mothers suffering from severe forms of depression are less likely to establish a connection with their children, foster healthy development, and ensure access to nutrition, all critical indicators for newborns’ cognitive functioning.

HAI, in partnership with the Panzi Foundation, will test the efficacy of a mental health intervention on mothers who are survivors of sexual violence on improved cognitive, emotional, motor and linguistic development of their infants. This project is the first intervention study designed specifically to improve infant development outcomes by providing mental health services to mothers experiencing major depression.  The innovative project will pilot an evidence-based cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression and traumatic stress in a rural Congolese context, will be provided by paraprofessionals, and integrated into existing postnatal care.

This innovative project is funded through Saving Brains, a partnership of Grand Challenges Canada, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Maria Cecila Souto Vidigal Foundation, Norlien Foundation, and World Vision Canada. It supports bold ideas to promote healthy brain development in the first 1000 days with lasting impact on human capital in low-and middle-income countries, so children and societies can reach their full potential. To date, Saving Brains has invested $38.5 million in 106 projects and a platform to accelerate progress against the challenge.

About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact® in global health. It is funded by the Government of Canada and funds innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. The bold ideas it supports integrate science and technology, social and business innovation –Integrated Innovation®. It focuses on bringing successful innovation to scale, catalyzing sustainability and impact. It has a determined focus on results, and on saving and improving lives.


About Heartland Alliance International

Heartland Alliance International (HAI) is a service-based human rights organization whose mission is to secure the rights and well-being of marginalized people and communities. HAI’s programming in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean applies a progressive and inclusive approach to protecting and promoting the human rights of extremely vulnerable populations. HAI’s mental health programming is grounded in trauma-informed evidence-based practices and designed to empower survivors of violence to fully participate in their own recovery.

About Heartland Alliance

Heartland Alliance, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, works in communities in the U.S. and abroad to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. It provides a comprehensive array of health and support services, and leads state and national policy efforts, which target lasting change for individuals and society. Building on the social entrepreneurship legacy of one of its principal founders, Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams, the organization continues to advance innovative approaches to many of the world’s greatest challenges. For more information visit: www.heartlandalliance.org.



Media Contact(s):

Ned Schaub
(312) 350-5018


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