A cross-continental collaboration

In partnership with dozens of authors around the globe, three Brown School faculty members edited a new, groundbreaking book illuminating child behavioral health in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Illustration by Kayse Larkin.

“We look at the world as a global village,” says Fred M. Ssewamala, the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor, of the work conducted at the Brown School. “We believe in bi-directional learning: There’s a lot the global north can learn from the global south, and vice versa.”

This “it takes a village” mentality was behind publishing a pioneering book co-edited by Ssewamala and two others with Brown School ties: Ozge Sensoy Bahar, research assistant professor, and Mary M. McKay, the former Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean who is now vice provost of interdisciplinary initiatives.

Featuring the work of more than 40 contributors from North America and Africa, Child Behavioral Health in Sub-Saharan Africa: Towards Evidence Generation and Policy Development epitomizes a word the three editors use in describing its creation: collaboration.

“This would not have happened without the commitment of our authors on the continent,” Sensoy Bahar says. 

The book is the first to focus exclusively on child behavioral health in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has long been under-researched. Since the majority of Sub-Saharan Africans are under 21, Sensoy Bahar says this “youth bulge” merits study to better understand the social and behavioral landscape of African children and adolescents, which will, in turn, dictate how this impressionable population becomes economic drivers and global leaders. The new book highlights the current state of policy and research evidence both in the region as a whole and in country-specific contexts.

“The seed for the book started at the Brown School and grew out of our longstanding relationships with researchers in the global south, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa,” Ssewamala says. Interest was further strengthened by the editors’ research portfolio on the continent funded by the NIH and research from authors in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda. “They did a fantastic job in focusing on more specific aspects of child behavioral health in their respective countries,” Sensoy Bahar says. 

“Our focus on collaboration across disciplines, across roles with community partners is a hallmark of the Brown School, and that was by extension how we approached writing this book,” McKay says. For a book of this scope, “You can’t do it by yourself as a single scholar.

“You have to bring networks together — and what we learn across the globe gets applied in our region, and what we learn in our region gets applied across the globe, respectfully and in culturally conscious ways.”

— Mary McKay

Ssewamala calls these continent-spanning efforts “an extension of the academic and ethical values of the Brown School and of WashU. Our work is also about impact, using rigorous research that is people-centered and sensitive to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of colonization and exploited resources, which have impacted how much time and funding has been spent studying its vital populations — specifically its youth, who will inherit the region and become drivers of global culture, commerce and policy. This book, and its synergetic inception, holds a promise to ignite further research and advocacy. 

Child Behavioral Health in Sub-Saharan Africa can “inspire a whole new generation of young researchers to advance the field and inform policy and practice, especially those from the continent,” Sensoy Bahar says.

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