UCT's Alan Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health has been designated as a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre, the only one in South Africa and one of only two in Africa.
The announcement follows a lengthy process, says Professor Crick Lund, director of the Alan Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH).
“This ends a process that I initiated on Dr Shekhar Saxena's suggestion four years ago, and we are very pleased that it has come through.”
Saxena is director of the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
The centre applied for the WHO Collaboration Centre (WHO CC) status to formalise collaborations that had been ongoing since 2001.
“At that time some of us in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health were invited by WHO to collaborate on the development of mental health policy and service guidelines, targeting mainly low- and middle-income countries,” added Lund.
The group subsequently collaborated with the WHO on the Mental Health and Poverty Project, a Department for International Development (DFID) funded consortium working in four African countries (2005 to 2010), and then in the Programme for Improving Mental Health care (PRIME), a research consortium working in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia (2011 to 2017).
(DFID is a UK government department responsible for administering overseas aid.)
This collaboration allows the CPMH to work with the WHO in the implementation and evaluation of the mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) Intervention Guide in five low- and middle-income countries: Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Uganda and South Africa.
The WHO recently launched the mhGAP to scale up care for mental, neurological and substance-use disorders in these countries. The Intervention Guide has been developed to facilitate the mhGAP-related delivery of evidence-based interventions in non-specialised health-care settings.
“The development is important for our centre because it formalises our ties with the WHO and allows us to work more closely with them on projects to strengthen mental health policy and services, especially in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Lund.
He said the new WHO Collaborating Centre status also acknowledged the value of the centre's work to the WHO and UN member states.
“And it enables us to work more closely with ministries of health in low and middle-income countries, including our own.”
Lund is hopeful the development will ensure that the centre's research results are taken up in policy and practice “in a manner that improves the lives of people living with mental illness, particularly those living in poverty”.
He added that the centre would continue to work closely with the WHO and ministries of health in various countries to scale up mental health care.
“It also strengthens our resolve to get mental health on international health and development policy agendas and provide evidence to scale up mental health care across the continent.”
Photo by Michael Hammond.
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