Tanya Palmyre, Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Officer, Collectif Urgence Toxida (CUT), Harm Reduction, Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius
Shatyam Issur, Managing Director, CUT, Mauritius
Dr Fiona Grant, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Mauritius, Mauritius
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Mauritius work with different target populations with the objective to eradicate various social issues. Collaborative research amongst NGOs allows for in-depth understanding of the cross-cutting nature of social problems. This article showcases such a successful collaborative research between four local NGOs which prioritises the perspectives of target populations to better understand crime, drug consumption, HIV prevalence, marginalisation, sex work amongst others. This project is particularly innovative in that it is not only rooted in quality academic research but its results have been disseminated through a creative process of developing five docu-series presenting the core research findings.
Collectif Urgence Toxida (CUT) in collaboration with Prévention Information et Lutte contre le Sida (Pils), Aides, Infos, Liberté, Espoir et Solidarité (AILES) and Parapli Rouz led a community- based research investigating the relationship between different psychological and social determinants affecting priority populations’ life in Mauritius. The project, supported by the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council (MRIC), defined priority populations as People Living with HIV/AIDS, People Who Inject Drugs, sex workers, the LGBT community and Men Who Have Sex with Men. The research aimed at documenting and understanding priority populations’ levels of well-being and quality of life and their perceptions of stigma and discrimination. The objective was to develop recommendations for policymakers, researchers, health professionals and social workers.
Objectives of the study
Two studies aimed to understand and measure a set of health indices (physical, psychological, social, emotional well-being) among key participants, to (1) assess the quality of life of priority populations in Mauritius, and (2) collect data on psychological factors and experiences of individuals regarding stigma and discrimination. Study 1 examined the current state of psychological well-being and satisfaction with life of Priority Populations in Mauritius and the relationship between perceived wellness and social norms, stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion of priority populations. Study 2 focused on the feelings and opinions of service providers and the wider population in Mauritius as they relate to stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and the psychological well-being and satisfaction with life of Priority Populations.
The objective was to understand the processes in place and inform a communication campaign that produced a five-episodes docuseries and develop recommendations based on the empirical findings for policymakers, researchers, health professionals, and social workers.
Trailer of the Docu-series by Collectif Urgence Toxida
Methodology of the study
The study collected data using online questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. Two questionnaires were developed to collect information from the various target groups, namely People Living with HIV/AIDS, People Who Inject Drugs, sex workers, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, service providers and the general population. A total of 267 participants, all Mauritian nationals, and representative of each target group participated in the survey. Based on established scales from the field of social psychology, the questions were selected to align with the needs and interests of priority populations in Mauritius. The established scales measured life satisfaction, perceived well-being, group identification, preparation for bias, everyday discrimination and ostracism, social exclusion, and demographic information. This study was correlational in nature.
In Study 1, survey methods were used to ask participants about their thoughts, feelings, expectations, and actions as they relate to quality of life (well-being and satisfaction with life), stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion. The sample consisted of 166 adult participants belonging to the different priority populations as listed in Figure 1.
Findings of the study
Findings revealed that average scores for well-being were moderately high across the four dimensions of psychological well-being, emotional well-being, social well-being, and physical well-being. However, by contrast, the reported satisfaction with life was relatively low. Priority populations reported feeling excluded from Mauritian society and a sense of not being fully considered as a member of social and professional life. Correlational analyses revealed that social exclusion, ostracism, and discrimination were negatively correlated with all measures of well-being, such that when feelings of social exclusion, ostracism and discrimination increased, participants’ levels of well-being (psychological, emotional, social, physical) decreased.
Study 2 focused on the feelings and opinions of service providers and the wider population in Mauritius as they relate to the psychological well-being and satisfaction with life of Priority Populations. Service providers are defined as individuals that work for organisations or ministries serving priority populations in various domains such as health, harm reduction, security, and education, to name a few. Participants included 66 service providers, 30 individuals from the wider population, and 5 who did not mention their status.
The analysis highlighted that service providers and the wider population tended to be aware of feelings and opinions of the priority populations, as well as the local social context. Indeed, service providers and the wider population had a good knowledge of challenges present in society and how to serve each person best. In addition, service providers and the wider population reported relatively low levels of ostracism and prejudice towards priority populations. Overall, they consider priority populations as full contributors to social life and treat them fairly. The only instance of subtle prejudice involved behaviours and thoughts that are linked to providing help and services. For example, approximately one third of service providers and the wider population believed that priority populations needed help to make good choices for themselves and that assistance will be required throughout their life.
This study is innovative in several ways. It is the first, to our knowledge, to examine determinants of well-being among priority populations alongside the perspectives of service providers in Mauritius. Moreover, the data collected were disseminated in an innovative way by illustrating them in a docuseries of 5 episodes each focused on a specific theme highlighted in the research.
Some recommendations of the study
Findings from this research can shed light on possible recommendations for persuasive health promotion initiatives. The need for effective interventions and research promoting health and well-being during and after the Coronavirus pandemic is critical. Indeed, there is limited evidence about the mental challenges faced by priority populations in Mauritius. Yet, the current research has demonstrated that these persons are at risk for mental health challenges, discrimination and lower levels of well-being.
The first recommendation highlights the importance of focusing on well-being and health promotion in its globality. To be “well” requires a holistic approach, taking into consideration physical health, mental health, emotional health and social health. Thus well-being can be increased by activating the different domains of well-being and not merely focusing on barriers to health. One such example would be to recognize the importance of social factors such as family support and peer influence. As we know, family members and friends often influence one’s attitudes and behaviours as they relate to health. Social support groups for priority populations that include others who are facing or have faced similar challenges can positively impact overall wellness.
The second recommendation is to put the person at the center of well-being initiatives. The findings of the current research highlight how each priority population is similar and different (at the same time) to one another. Thus, it is important to design messages relevant to the intended group’s characteristics because people are more responsive to personally relevant messages, especially when it relates to health. In terms of programmatic framework, when developing health promotion events or harm reduction strategies, it is necessary to identify the level (institution level, organisation level, group level or individual level) at which this intervention will be most effective.
Finally, and most importantly, a participatory and collaborative approach will enable the development of effective programs for health promotion. This allows for each voice and expertise to be heard and concurrently greater acceptance and buy-in. For example, it is recommended to organise brainstorming sessions to identify actional points for change, where community members, organisational representatives, social workers, and researchers are equitably involved.
All photos copyright Collectif Urgence Toxida (CUT).
Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).