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Focus on Current PhD Research

Exciting projects undertaken by our current research degree students.


Copyright K Bermudez

Keven Bermudez is a Cuban-American community psychologist born and raised in Barcelona, (Catalonia) Spain.

"Research on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers"

© Keven Bemudez

His main area of work and study is migrant/refugee social integration. He has worked extensively in various international conflict/post-conflict settings, providing psychosocial care to torture survivors, refugees/returnees and internally-displaced populations, and child soldiers.

These professional experiences provide the basis for the focus of his ongoing PhD research on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Barcelona and their varying responses to loss of available informal social networks in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis.

In 2009, QMU awarded him a PhD bursary through the Santander Universities Scholarship fund to conduct this research.

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Blessings Kachale came to study at IGHD in 2006-2007 and gained an MSc Degree in Social Development and Health. She is currently a PhD research student; her background is in community development, specifically project management.

"The experiences of Elderly carers caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) in Chiradzuru district in Malawi."

Grandmother with grandchildren
© Blessings Kachale

Blessings' research  focuses on the day-to-day experiences of elderly caregivers caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) in Malawi. In the 1990s, the number of orphans increased rapidly due to the HIV epidemic in Malawi, placing great strains on the extended family and the affected communities. Nearly half of these orphans have older people caring for them; however, little is known about older people’s experiences of providing care and support for these orphans, while maintaining their own livelihoods.

Father and Son on medical ward © S Kasthala
Father and Son on medical ward
© S Kasthala

Sarath Kasthala is a general practitioner with a wide range of experience in urban and rural settings. He has worked as a medical practitioner in both secure environments and fragile contexts, and has experience treating asylum seekers and torture survivors.

"How civic society actors collaborate with state and non- state actors in the provision of primary health care in countries following protracted conflict."


He conducted a pilot-study in the occupied Palestinian territory in late 2011 which highlighted how interactions between such actors and local communities  met population health needs.  He will be following this up a comparative case-study in Northern Uganda and Colombia.

In his doctoral research, Sarath examines how civil society actors collaborate with state and non-state actors in the provision of primary health care in countrie following protracted conflict. 


Isabelle Uny is a French social scientist living in Scotland, based at IGHD since her MSc undertaken in 2006.  Her doctoral research explores the changing role of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in supporting maternal health in Malawi.

"The changing role of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) in supporting maternal health in Malawi."

Maternity Ward in Malawi
© I Uny

Maternity Ward in Malawi © I Uny

Maternal mortality in Malawi is very high and has been partly attributed to the lack of a skilled medical professional at more than 30% of deliveries. Malawi's case is particularly interesting given the historically contested role of TBAs: Though TBAs were trained for decades in Malawi, in 2007 the Government redefined their role which banned them from conducting deliveries and saw them as referring agents. The latest Presidential Safe Motherhood Initiative launched in September 2012 reasserted the change in roles for TBAs. However, the position of TBAs is complicated by the lack of proximate facilities available to pregnant women  and a continued lack of skilled birth attendants.

Isa was in Malawi earlier in 2013, undertaking qualitative fieldwork to explore this topic from the point of view of TBAs themselves, skilled birth attendants, women, men and other major stakeholders. Using a grounded theory approach, she will conduct interviews with both TBAs and Skilled Birth Attendants, and Focus Group Discussions with other stakeholders, in the areas of Nkhoma, Mchinji and Malosa or Mulanje.

Isa was successful in obtaining a Santander Research Grant of £5000 to support this important work. Isa was also successful in obtaining a QMU Scholarship to undertake her PhD research.


Hospital in China © G Zou
Hospital in China
© G Zou

Guanyang Zou is a Chinese researcher with a background in health policy and systems research, and considerable experience in looking at the integration of tuberculosis services in general health services in China.

"Testing a systems-based framework to assess the influence of financing mechanisms on TB care in 'designated' general hospitals in China."


China has the second largest tuberculosis (TB) burden in the world. As the basic unit of TB control, the country TB dispensaries provide both clinical and public health care. One of the most important recent reforms for TB control in the country has been the transfer of clinical TB services from the TB dispensaries to the ‘designated’ general hospitals.

In China, general hospitals are mainly public, although they receive limited funding from the government. In most cases, TB services are subsidized through the designated hospitals, while in some cases, they receive direct funding from the government. 

Using a case study approach, Guanyang’s doctoral research will examine the relationship between financing mechanisms, management, and care processes in TB services in two ‘designated’ hospitals of Zhejiang province, an eastern province that pioneered the reform of TB service delivery in China.

Guanyang was recently awarded a Santander Current Student Scholarship, which will help him to pursue this timely and important project.

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Nicole Vidal is a Peruvian-American anthropologist with a background in global health policy and sexual and reproductive health.

"Investigating the role of community health workers as first-level health care providers of maternal and neonatal healthcare services in the Peruvian Highlands."

Village in Peru
© N Vidal

Village in Peru © N Vidal

Her current research investigates the role of community health workers as first-level health care providers of maternal and neonatal healthcare services in the Peruvian Highlands. Peru currently has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Latin America, with the majority of these cases occurring within rural Andean communities.

As these communities often experience unequal access to healthcare services, community health workers may be a woman’s first point of contact for care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.

Nicole’s research examines the potential role of community-level health providers within the framework of Peru’s existing maternal and neonatal healthcare policies.

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Aids Quilt, West Ukraine © S McGill

Svitlana McGill is from Kyiv, Ukraine. Her research examines the impact of GFATM grants on HIV prevention policies and services in the Ukraine.

"Examining the impact of GFATM grants on HIV prevention policies and services in the Ukraine."

This Eastern European nation has the highest adult HIV prevalence in Europe and its rapidly growing HIV epidemic is unfolding in a difficult political and epidemiological context.

Aids Quilt, West Ukraine
© S McGill

The country also holds the largest portfolio of Global Fund grants in the region, and Svitlana’s research specifically looks at the relationship between knowledge about the policy context of HIV transmission and the design and implementation of HIV prevention policies during Rounds 1 and 6 of Global Fund grants (2003-2011).

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last modified 18/03/16

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