Two University of New Brunswick researchers have received research grants of close to $1 million to carry out projects that will improve health services for New Brunswickers.

The funding was awarded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Partnerships for Health System Improvement (PHSI) program and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, a funding partner in the PHSI program.

Judith Wuest received $484,950 over three years to examine the feasibility of a primary health-care intervention for women who have left abusive partners in the past three years. Nicole Letourneau received $499,829 over three years to study telephone-based support programs for new mothers suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).

Dr. Wuest and Dr. Letourneau are researchers and professors in the faculty of nursing at UNB Fredericton. “These grants are a testament to the critical work that Nicole and Judy are doing in the areas of women’s health, mental health, and family and community services, and in influencing public policy and social change,” said Greg Kealey, UNB’s provost and vice-president (research). “Both researchers are contributing significantly to UNB’s rapid growth in external research funding which has exceeded $50 million in each of the past two years.”

Dr. Wuest’s research project will evaluate a nurse-led health intervention delivered in collaboration with existing domestic violence outreach services. She has partnered with the New Brunswick Women’s Issues Branch, the New Brunswick Department of Health, and Liberty Lane Inc., which collectively are providing in-kind contributions of close to $50,000. These partners will also provide direction for the research and become the first users of the new knowledge.

“One in three Canadian women experiences abuse from a male partner,” said Dr. Wuest. “Women who experience abuse have more physical and mental health problems than other Canadian women. Health services focusing on prevention and building capacity for managing health problems associated with domestic violence are important for improving health and reducing health-care costs. Yet, interventions to address the physical and mental health issues of women after leaving have not been developed.”

The proposed intervention is based on previous CIHR-funded research by Dr. Wuest and colleagues that looked at reports from abused women of the priority health challenges, strengths for managing health, and factors that obstruct their efforts. This research identified that finding new, cost-effective ways to improve the health of women after leaving is important for planning policy and services for this priority, at-risk group.

Dr. Letourneau’s research project addresses postpartum depression, which is the most frequent illness experienced by new mothers, affecting nearly one in seven.

Her team includes health researchers at the University of Alberta, UNB, the University of Toronto and the IWK Childrens’ Hospital, and decision-makers with the Public Health Agency of Canada and three divisions of the New Brunswick Department of Health, including the Primary Health Care Unit, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Mental Health and Primary Care Services. She has also established a community advisory committee of regional experts in mental health and health services

“Mothers with PPD experience symptoms of low mood, loss of energy, agitation, insomnia or tiredness, excessive guilt, confusion, and thoughts of self harm,” said Dr. Letourneau. “Less than half of women with PPD get the support they need. In our previous research, these mothers reported that peer support is most needed.”

In Phase 1 of the project, an accessible telephone-based peer-support intervention will be developed for mothers affected by postpartum depression. In Phase 2, the effectiveness and acceptability of the intervention will be tested and the support program will be adapted to promote sustainable and effective telephone-based support for these vulnerable women.

It is anticipated that this innovative intervention has the potential to provide more affordable, acceptable, accessible, and timely care to mothers in New Brunswick suffering with PPD. This research will also serve as a model for integrating peer support into mental health services in other regions in Canada.

The projects are two of 19 that received $11 million from CIHR and its partners.

“These research projects target the emerging health needs of Canadians and will provide results tailored to the needs of health policy decision-makers,” said Keith Ashfield, Member of Parliament for Fredericton, on behalf of Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health. “Our government is committed to working with our provincial and territorial counterparts who are responsible for health care delivery by supporting innovative, solution-based research.”

The New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, a major partner in the UNB PHSI grants, was created in July 2008 with a mandate to co-ordinate, support and promote health research in New Brunswick.

“The success of Dr. Wuest and Dr. Letourneau through the rigorous review process is an indication of the high-quality health research we undertake in this province, said Robert Simpson, executive director of NBHRF. “As New Brunswickers, we will benefit not only from the results of the research, but also through the training the research will provide to students and young researchers involved with these projects.”

About UNB

Established in 1785, UNB is one of the oldest public universities in North America. With more than 12,500 students from more than 100 countries, UNB has the best student-to-faculty ratio of Canada’s comprehensive universities, according to Maclean’s magazine. As the largest research institution in New Brunswick, UNB conducts over 75 per cent of the province’s university research. The university has more than 3,500 faculty and staff, and an annual operating budget of more than $160 million. UNB’s two main campuses are located in Fredericton and Saint John, N.B.

Contact:

Natalie Montgomery, Communication Officer (506)
453-4990

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