Mental health care should be urgently integrated into primary health care to address Africa's social, economic and health priorities. This was the message delivered to members of the Africa-led mental health research project, the Programme for Improving Mental health carE (PRIME), at the third annual PRIME meeting in Addis Ababa in April.
The meeting was hosted by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and Addis Ababa University, and reviewed the implementation of mental health care plans in Ethiopia and the other PRIME countries: India, Nepal, South Africa and Uganda.
UCT's Associate Professor Crick Lund leads this UKAID-funded programme across the five partnering countries. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is leading the South African implementation of PRIME, and was represented at the meeting by Professor Inge Petersen.
Mental health care is critical in Africa. Research indicates that more than 13% of the global burden of disease is due to mental illness. Although the vast majority of people affected by mental illness live in low-and middle-income countries, most mental health care resources are located in high-income countries. This lack of resources for effective treatment has contributed to a large 'treatment gap'. Up to four out of every five people with mental illness in these countries do not have access to mental health care.
Addressing the meeting, Dr Mustapha Idiki Kaloko, Ethiopia's Commissioner for Social Affairs, said: "The continent's greatest asset, the budding youth and future leaders of tomorrow, are more susceptible to mental ill health than any of the other segments of society. Therefore, if we do not address this problem now, the future of our youth will become bleak and uncertain, and will impact negatively on the continent." Speakers said a host of issues such as poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, conflict and crime had exacerbated mental illness in their countries.
PRIME consortium members reported back on the peer review of each country's mental healthcare plans. Other sessions included a presentation on maximising the uptake of PRIME's research into policy and practice; gender mainstreaming (the public policy concept of assessing the different implications for women and men of any planned policy action, including legislation and programmes, in all areas and levels); and evaluation design. Since PRIME's establishment in 2011, the programme has attempted to address human capacity development in mental health care to ensure that communities benefit from mental health research, and that women and vulnerable groups can gain access to mental health care.
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