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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Forced Displacement, Mental Health, and Child Development: Evidence from the Rohingya Refugees

Asad Islam, Department of Economics, Monash University

Register HERE.

12:30-1:30 PM PT

101 Hans Rosling Center

101 Hans Rosling Center


Department of EconomicsPopulation Health Initiative

Forced displacement is a major driver of mental disorders among refugees worldwide. Poor mental health of adult refugees, particularly mothers, is also considered a risk factor for the psychological well-being and development of their children. In this study, we experimentally examine the extent to which a multifaceted psychosocial program improves the mental health of refugee mothers, and facilitates growth and development among children under the age of two. In partnership with BRAC, we ran a cluster randomized controlled trial on 3,500 Rohingya mother-child dyads in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Participants were given weekly psychosocial support for 44 weeks through peer volunteers, which includes psychoeducation and parenting support for mothers and play activities for both mothers and children. The intervention was largely successful and led to: (i) reductions in the psychological trauma and depression severity of mothers and children, (ii) improvements in communication, gross-motor, and problem-solving skills of children, and (iii) reductions in stunting and severe stunting. The intervention cost about $1 per dyad per week and is currently being scaled up in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where about seventeen thousand mother-child pairs now benefit from it.

Asad Islam is the Director of the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES) and Professor of Economics at Monash University. He is one of the Chief Investigators for the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEVAW). He is also an affiliated Professor at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT).
He has extensive experience working in the field to implement academic and policy-relevant research including education, gender, microfinance, and migration. Asad has conducted numerous surveys and field experiments in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Asad’s research is supported by international grans, such as Australian Research Council (ARC), UK Research Council (ESRC), DFID/FCDO, AusAID (DFAT), International Growth Centre (IGC), European Commission, Asian Development Bank and World Bank.