David “Kofi” Mensah, a student in Northern Arizona University’s interdisciplinary health doctoral program and a research assistant with Northern Arizona University’s Center for Health Equity Research, won the Wadsworth International Fellowship award through the Wenner-Gren Foundation.
The fellowship provides funds to support Mensah’s living expenses for four years while he is earning his doctoral degree in interdisciplinary health (IH) at NAU.
Mensah, an international student from Ghana, is exploring his research interests in a medical anthropological approach to mental healthcare and drug addiction with a theoretical emphasis on stigma and care through his doctoral degree.
“Kofi has been a great team member on my projects,” said Emery Eaves, associate professor in the NAU Department of Anthropology and one of Mensah’s mentors. “His enthusiasm for improving mental health care and reducing stigma has translated into an interest in substance use treatment. His research in Ghana has the potential to improve mental health care and change the way both health care providers and patients are treated in Ghana’s post-colonial medical system.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, Mensah earned a master’s degree in medical anthropology from NAU before joining the IH doctoral program.
“I had a friend here at NAU doing his master’s degree in criminology, so I decided to apply to the anthropology program here and got in touch with Dr. Michelle Parsons who has been my academic advisor since then,” Mensah said.
Mensah is also a scholar for the Culturally-Centered Addictions Research Training (C-CART)—a training program with fewer than a dozen national and international scholars selected to participate. In fall 2021, Mensah said that he discovered C-CART from a general email to all IH doctoral students, and he decided to apply.
“I got interested because I was working as a graduate research assistant with Dr. Eaves on a project with CHER [Center for Health Equity Research] around telemedicine and opioid use during the pandemic, which led me to develop an interest in drug addiction research,” Mensah said. “I thought of this [C-CART] program as a perfect fit for my career training.”
In the summer of 2021 CHER, in partnership with NAU’s College of Education, received a grant to create C-CART, a graduate training program for practicing clinicians and doctoral students in health professions. C-CART addresses substance use disorders, specifically in underserved American Indian, Hispanic, and rural populations.
Regents’ Professor Julie A. Baldwin, CHER director, and Ramona Mellott, dean of NAU’s College of Education and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology are the multiple principal investigators of the project.
“We are so pleased to have David (Kofi) Mensah as part of our inaugural cohort for the C-CART program,” Mellott said. “Kofi is part of an interprofessional team focused on obtaining research skills that include culturally centered practices, related to substance use disorders which can be applied in interprofessional practice and diverse settings. His focus on medical anthropological research brings a valuable dimension to the team. Congratulations, Kofi, on your recent Wadsworth International Fellowship Award through the Wenner-Gren Foundation and for your commitment to research in mental health care and drug addiction.”
Mensah said his doctoral thesis research focuses on a medical anthropological approach to mental healthcare and drug addiction with a theoretical emphasis on stigma and care.
“During these research projects [with Eaves and CHER], I found that there’s stigma, especially structural stigma, around mental health and drug addiction care and treatment,” he said. “My Ph.D. dissertation seeks to look at the interpersonal and structural stigma processes that hinder mental health care in Ghana through an in-depth hospital ethnography at the Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital.”
Through Mensah’s C-CART research, he is also examining medical treatment strategies for pregnant women with chronic pain syndrome diagnosis in northern Arizona who are enrolled in Medicaid.
“I want to thank my academic advisor and mentor, Dr. Parsons, for her unflinching support throughout my academics here in the United States,” Mensah said. “Also, a thank you to Dr. Emery Eaves for all the opportunities and support she has given me. I am very grateful to them.”
“I also want to acknowledge my Chi Alpha Christian campus ministry family for their support and love,” he added. “And to my Northland Christian Assembly church family, I say thank you for making me feel at home away from home.”