Alumni Report: Working with gangs in London – a public health approach

LSHTM Uganda 3MSc Public Health alumna Dorcas Gwata is a Mental Health Specialist who works in the Integrated Gangs Unit in London. Dorcas is also a Trustee for Zimbabwe Health Training Support Diaspora Charity, and Co-Director of the Global Health Café. In addition to studying an MSc at LSHTM, Dorcas also studied a short course in Researching Gender Violence in 2014. Her studies developed her skills and practice in the area of gender violence. In this alumni report, Dorcas talks about her work in the Integrated Gangs Unit and how that led her to set up the Global Health Café – a platform for Global Health enthusiasts.

The Integrated Gangs Unit is a unique multi-agency unit that addresses youth violence and sexual exploitation, and its impact on community safety for young people aged 12 to 21. The goal of the Unit is to reduce youth violence and improve community safety using public health approaches. “On measurement, their experiences are well beyond the scope of other youth who are not involved in gang culture”. Some do not expect to live beyond the age of 25, some have been victims of violence or lost friends due to violence, and most have been exploited or bullied. These young people are struggling with issues of identity, masculinity and some have poor literacy skills. Young girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Dorcas was asked to take a lead role at the Unit after working as a Mental Health Adviser for AFRUCA Charity, a charity formed on the backdrop of the Victoria Climbe case. Dorcas’s work at the Unit explores the impact of traumatic events on the mental health of young people at the Unit. “I work within a brilliant multi-agency setting. The strength of our work is based on our ability to work across disciplines and innovation”.

The Integrated Gangs Unit is currently working on developing community-based clinics across Westminster, which will increase access to mental health services for young people that have experienced youth violence and exploitation. “I am bringing in evidence based approaches from the Friendship Bench project in Zimbabwe, which uses problem solving tools to address trauma and common mental health conditions. In doing so I am contributing to the emerging body of evidence on how health care systems in high income countries can learn from low income countries whilst validating the tremendous work going on in low income countries despite the challenges

“In response to the depth of enquiries that we receive on the work we do at the Unit, we have set up the Global Health Cafe, a platform for “Global Health enthusiasts” who meet regularly to discuss global health issues with a view to inform innovation, health policy, evaluation and practice”. Dorcas jointly set up the Global Health Cafe with Global Policy Expert, Ade Adeyemi and with support from their mentors Dr Titilola Banjoko and Professor Aliko Ahmed. “Over time we will be looking to develop these discussions on bigger think tank platforms, seeking funding to grow our influence in Global Health. The timing could not be more right with the new appointment of Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus as WHO Director General, the first African to hold to this post”.

For more information about the Intergrated Gangs Unit and the Global Health Café, please visit and You can also follow Dorcas and the Global Health Café on twitter @zambezi40 and @TheGHCafe.


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