SexLab Colleague Profile: Dr. Mutumba

Sarah Shaw

Dr. Massy Mutumba is no stranger to SexLab or the University of Michigan School of Public Health, as she earned both her master’s and doctorate degrees in Health Behavior and Health Education from the university and has been an influential post-doctoral scholar at the Lab. However, we’re very excited to congratulate Dr. Mutumba on her new Research Fellow position at the School of Nursing. With a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, Dr. Mutumba provides a unique perspective on the intersection of public health and clinical care. Her research applies public health frameworks to pressing issues in clinical settings. She explains that she is able to “participate in the clinical care and then translate what [she’s] doing in public health directly into the clinical context.” Furthermore, she emphasizes how understanding clinical conditions can help inform how we conceptualize population level concerns.

When asked to describe her research interests, Dr. Mutumba explains that “when I think about my focus of research I think more of the population that I want to serve, which is young people…I think about this population and what needs they have and how to respond to those needs. So thinking about the person as a holistic entity, rather than focusing on a particular problem.” Much of Dr. Mutumba’s research focuses on youth living with HIV, and their access to care and medication adherence. Her clinical work involves challenges such as helping parents inform their children of their HIV status and assisting youth to navigate daily life hassles such as relationships and adherence to HIV care. She stresses that it is important “to think about what are their aspirations because when you talk to them you realize that they have the same dreams like every adolescent. They want to go to school, get a good job…and they also want to have families.” However, it can be challenging to address issues of reproductive and sexual health in Uganda where talking about sex is relatively taboo.

While talking with Dr. Mutumba, her compassion for this work really shined through. She attributes her career aspirations and research program largely to several life-changing events including her time spent as a health educator in a Ugandan primary school, her first experience caring for a young girl diagnosed with HIV, and her community placements as an undergraduate nursing student.

Currently, Dr. Mutumba is investigating the mental health of adolescents living with HIV, with a particular interest in the concept of psychological distress  as a determinant of health and well-being. She explains that, “I think more from a theoretical perspective, distress is a phase on the mental health continuum…a reaction to stressors that impacts your well-being.” Within the clinical context, psychological distress is not frequently recognized as a specific diagnosis, and as a result distressed individuals are not getting the attention and care they need. Dr. Mutumba asserts that psychological distress plays a large role in medication adherence and relates to other risk-taking behaviors among adolescents. Additionally, she explained how “for the longest time, when implementing mental health care in resource-limited locations it has been a matter of just translating the measure or instrument used in high developed countries into a local language which doesn’t take into consideration the cultural elements as mental health varies across cultures.” These challenges are then compounded by the fact that there are very few mental health assessment tools that have been developed specifically for adolescents.

In response to this gap in care, Dr. Mutumba has focused on developing measures of mental health that are tailored to adolescents living with HIV in Uganda, with the hope of extending this measure to other adolescent populations. An exciting recent addition to the literature, the assessment tool developed by Dr. Mutumba and her other team members can be found here, and she hopes that this tool can be adapted and applied further within Sub-Saharan Africa. Looking forward, she plans to expand this tool to explore other health outcomes including reproductive health, adolescent risk taking, and substance abuse.

We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Mutumba in the future and are very thankful to have her as a comrade in the fight against HIV.

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