ASSET Capacity Building

Researchers taking part in the 2019 capacity building workshop in Durban, South Africa, in March 2019.

Dr Rosie Mayston (ASSET co-I) is the ASSET capacity building lead and has spearheaded many capacity building efforts throughout the course of the project. Working closely with five institutional partners (Addis Ababa University, University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu Natal, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences,King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, and the University of Zimbabwe) and their faculty, the ASSET capacity building programme aims to build capacity in interdisciplinary health systems and services research within three broadly defined constituencies:

  1. the existing faculty of academics and educators, at KCL, and in our ASSET partner HEIs–to work individually and in partnership to design and deliver a high quality curriculum, addressing unmet needs for core methodological training, and transferable skills
  2. doctoral students, and postdoctoral/ early career researchers, at KCL, and in our ASSET partner HEIs–to develop core and transferable skills, and to understand and make best use of career development opportunities
  3. among the health workforce and management in partner countries -to develop a data-informed quality improvement culture, to design and conduct operational and quality improvement research, and to interpret and use the results of research

Dr  Mayston completed an online baseline needs and capacities assessments for students, ECRs, and academic faculty across all partners (83% response), and institutions (100% response). Beyond basic research methods, these identify operational research, implementation science, health systems and health service research and clinical trials methods as key needs for focused and more advanced training. The profile of needs did not differ greatly between UK and LMIC partners. All partners have some expertise to offer in designing/ delivering at least some of these elements, but KCL faculty will have a critical role to play in implementation science and health systems research.

Prof Martin Prince presenting on research impact at the Annual ASSET Scientific Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia , in February 2020.

We have identified doctoral training fellows (DTF), and early career researchers (ECR), to be provided with regular chances to interact, attend unit events and training, and engage with senior unit researchers. The training and support provided, to the early starters, has therefore been informal, comprising co-supervision and mentoring, PhD and postdoctoral research planning, and methodological support for e.g. systematic and scoping reviews.

Senior unit researchers have been working with the identified students to develop their research. These students’ research focuses, at least in part, on ASSET health system strengthening research activities and their research will provide additional ASSET research outputs. In addition to supervising and mentoring early career researchers, the capacity building programme also includes workshops hosted at the unit’s annual scientific meetings.

In 2019, these workshops focused on designing and evaluating health systems strengthening programmes, implementation science methodologies for health systems strengthening programmes, with a focus on realist evaluations as an approach.

In 2020, workshops further addressed the identified need of unit researchers. These topics included a basic writing workshop with a focus on publishing research outputs, as well as the planning of research activities to achieve impact.

ASSET currently supports 13 fully funded or partly funded early career researchers. These include 7 PhD students and 6 postdoctoral fellows.

Alessandra Giusti

Alessandra has been appointed as a PhD Fellow at King’s College London, funded by the NIHR ASSET grant. Prior to joining the team, Alessandra worked as a third-sector management consultant, supporting a range of health and community care providers (in developing service solutions, operational strategies and transformation programmes). Alessandra holds an MSc in Global Health from Uppsala University, Sweden, and a BSc in Natural Sciences from Durham University, UK. During her studies, she worked as an intern at the United Nations headquarters with the Every Woman Every Child EOSG team, and at the Nuffield Trust. Her passions lie in working towards universal health coverage and transforming local health systems to improve patient experience. She is a strong believer in the power of interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, cross-country collaboration in addressing both global and local healthcare challenges.

She aims to investigate the meaning and feasibility of person-centeredness in healthcare internationally, and to generate evidence-based recommendations for clinicians, policy makers and clinical trainers on how to implement quality, person-centered care.

Working across sites in South Africa, together with the work package 5 team in Cape Town, as well as in Jordan and Thailand, Alessandra is responsible for designing, coordinating and analysing qualitative interviews to understand the views and needs of patients suffering from serious illness, their caregivers and clinicians.

Dr Isaac Olufemi Smalle

As part of any health system intervention the roles of the people who will benefit from the system is paramount to the success of the intervention. In Sierra Leone, ASSET aims to develop and test health systems strengthening interventions in surgery within selected health facilities.

Dr Smalle’s PhD focuses on understanding how people with surgical problems in the communities navigate the process of decision-making to seek healthcare. He will look at the roles of various stakeholders in this process and the experiences of the patients in their quest for cure. Understanding these processes will help him to advice policy makers on how health systems interventions in surgery should be developed and implemented to achieve maximum uptake by the people


Nataliya Brima

The aim of Natalyia’s PhD is to develop, implement and evaluate a quality improvement project to improve the quality of nursing documentation within the surgical department of tertiary in Sierra Leone.

The project, based at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, employs a health systems strengthening approach, Theory of Change process, improvement and implementation Sciences and quality improvement methods such as Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA).



Dr Tanya Robbins

Tanya Robbins MBChB, MRCOG, is a Senior Registrar training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She has been appointed as a PhD Fellow at King’s College London funded by the NIHR ASSET grant. She is working alongside the maternity team in Ethiopia, focusing on barriers and facilitators to care for the three major causes of maternal mortality – haemorrhage, sepsis and pre-eclampsia. Tanya has experience of working clinically in rural and urban settings in low-income countries, having spent time in The Gambia and India. She has secured funding from the MRC/AHRC Global Public Health Partnership Award (£200,000) for a community engagement and education project in global health (The HAPPEE Partnership Project).

Pre-eclampsia is a complex, pregnancy-specific multi-system disorder. Pre-eclampsia is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in low income countries. Many deaths due to pre-eclampsia are avoidable.

Dr Robbins’ PhD will focus on evaluating the entire care pathway for hypertensive disorders in pregnancy in Ethiopia from community to hospital level. She aims to explore and understand local experiences, beliefs and knowledge including community level contextual factors that influence care for hypertension during pregnancy. She’ll compare her community-level findings in Ethiopia with findings from the HAPPEE Partnership Project in Haiti and Zimbabwe.

Dr Oliver Johnson

Dr Oliver Johnson is a PhD student with the Health Service & Population Health Department at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, where he is researching whether participation in a structured quality improvement programme strengthen the leadership and management capabilities of young clinicians in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is also an honorary researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Oliver studied Medicine at King’s and International Health at UCL. After graduating, he became a Teaching Fellow and helped to establish the global health education programmes at the King’s Centre for Global Health & Health Partnerships. He was recruited by Lord Crisp in 2011 to help set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health in the UK Parliament and worked as the group’s Policy Director until 2012.

From 2013-2015 he was the founding Director of the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership in Freetown, during which time he was actively involved in the country’s Ebola response. He was awarded an OBE for this work in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2015 and co-authored a book about the outbreak entitled Getting to Zero: a Doctor and a Diplomat on the Ebola Frontline. He then worked a Strategy & Technical Advisor for Africa Health Placements in South Africa. From 2017-2018 he helped lead the development of a 10-year strategy for the King’s Global Health Partnerships in Somaliland, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr Johnson’s PhD research asks whether participation in a structured quality improvement programme strengthens the leadership capabilities of early-career doctors in Sub-Saharan Africa. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, the leadership and management capabilities of health professionals may have a particularly significant impact on health system strengthening, but there has been relatively little investment in ensuring clinicians develop these essential skills. One approach to developing these may be through participation in a leadership development programme that includes quality improvement projects, which require relevant skills such as understanding a complex system and working with a multidisciplinary team. His research will identify the key leadership capabilities for doctors in Malawi and Sierra Leone and then design, pilot and evaluate a leadership development intervention. The research will inform how health systems and health training institutes can strengthen the leadership capabilities of future generations of health professionals.

Heilien (Lienkie) Diedericks

Lienkie is joining the ASSET project as a PhD student from the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. Her PhD is funded generously by the NIHR ASSET grant. Lienkie is currently completing an MSc in Bioethics and Society at King’s, with her dissertation focusing on the ethical and regulatory implications of pharmaceutical drugs being embedded with ingestible sensors to track adherence. She holds a postgraduate Honours degree in Analytical Philosophy and a BA in Philosophy and French from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Lienkie is fascinated by how social science, philosophy and interdisciplinary methodological approaches can be applied to improve health care policies and interventions.

Coming from South Africa, she has a vested interest in understanding how poverty and social conditions can influence healthcare access in disadvantaged communities of Sub-Saharan Africa. She is researching whether DR-TB in South Africa can be considered a global health threat, and if so, why?


Andualem Derese

Andualem is an AMARI PhD fellow at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. He obtained his BSc in Public Health from Haramaya University and worked in different health facilities as a clinical officer for three years. He also has five years’ work experience at different levels of academic positions in Haramaya University, after completing his Master’s degree in Public Health from Addis Ababa University.

Andualem’s main research interests are in co-morbid Depression and Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), particularly the effect of depression on self efficacy of Diabetes patients. In his thesis for AMARI fellowship, he is examining the prevalence, correlates and effects of depression on health-related cognition, treatment adherence and glycemic control of diabetes patients.



Dr Lindsay Farrant

Dr Farrant is investigating the integration of a palliative care approach into primary health care for patients with chronic lung disease in primary health care settings in metropolitan Cape Town.

The integration of palliative care into routine care for patients with respiratory conditions is receiving a lot of attention in high income countries. By contrast, there is little evidence for the palliative care needs of patients with chronic lung disease in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). Equally, there is little evidence for how palliative care can or should be integrated into standard care for patients with CLD in LMIC. As such this is an area which requires research to delineate patient, family and health care professional needs; and also how these can best be addressed in the context of the primary health care services in South Africa. The question I am asking:  Is it possible to deliver integrated palliative care for patients identified with chronic lung disease in a primary care setting in Cape Town, South Africa, and is this potentially effective and sustainable? This PhD will draw on the ASSET integrated palliative care and primary care project.