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Saturday, April 11, 2009

TweetThis! Mental Health Issues in an African Country - Mr. Modest J. Mero (Tanzania)

Mental Health Issues in an African Country
Mr. Modest J. Mero, (Minister, Tanzania, PRESIDENT of African Union)

The report prepared by the African Union and ECA in 2008, “Assessing Progress Towards Attaining the Millennium Development Goals in Africa,” shows that results on the implementation of the MDGs in Africa have been mixed. Despite this picture, the report reveals that most African countries with extreme poverty have responded positively to the resolution. Major support in implementing the MDGs is from African leaders at the national, sub-regional and continental levels. The international community has also responded positively to the challenge of achieving the MDGs by scaling up support to needy countries. Demonstrable progress has been reported in a number of areas, including primary education enrollment, the reduction of malaria deaths and reduced poverty in a number of countries. However, despite the fact that health is so important to the implementation of the MDGs, mental health was not categorized as an immediate challenge. This situation is probably diverting attention from national efforts in targeting interventions in the area of mental health.

__ Mental health is a psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. It is a desirable state for all mankind.
__ Worldwide, approximately 20 percent of children and adolescents suffer from a disabling mental illness. Anxiety disorders, depression and other mood disorders, and behavioral and cognitive disorders are among the most common problems. Half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders start by age 14. Every country and culture has children and adolescents struggling with mental health problems. Most of these young people suffer needlessly, unable to access appropriate resources for recognition, support and treatment. Ignored, these young people are at high risk for abuse and neglect, suicide, alcohol and other drug use, school failure, violent and criminal activities, mental illness in adulthood, and health-jeopardizing impulsive behaviors.
__ Each year, about four million adolescents attempt suicide. It is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. Adults are also affected by stress, uncertainty and change of life patterns as the cost of living increases, and poverty in developing countries leads to increased mental disorders.
__ The subject of mental health, since introduced in the ECOSOC, has gained momentum, attracting the interest of various stakeholders including NGOs, international organizations, civil societies and governments. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his message on World Mental Health Day, emphasized that mental disorders occur in all cultures and at all stages of life, and said “there can be no health without mental health.”
__ Statistics show that one person in four will be affected by mental illness at some stage in life. It can be depression, schizophrenia, or another related illnesses. More than 400 million people worldwide are estimated to be suffering from some kind of mental and neurological disorder, including alcohol and substance abuse. According to the WHO, of the 10 to 20 million people who attempt suicide each year, one million die. That’s as high as the death toll from malaria.
__ In Tanzania, health experts state that the number of mental-health patients has tripled from 31,238 in 2001 to 97,570 in 2007. They attribute the increase to causes including mental retardation, epilepsy, stress, drug abuse, alcohol, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes and chronic malaria. It is estimated that there are 2.5 million people with mental illnesses in Tanzania, but only a fifth of these obtain professional treatment. Alarming inequities in mental health care have been reported in Africa. According to the WHO there are 1,200 psychiatrists and 12,000 psychiatric nurses serving a population of 620 million people in Africa. In contrast, the European region, which includes the countries of the former Soviet Union, has 86,000 psychiatrists and 280,000 nurses serving a population of 870 million.
__ African countries are characterized by low incomes, a high prevalence of communicable diseases and malnutrition, low life-expectancy and poorly staffed services. Mental health issues often come last on the list of priorities for policy makers. Wars and conflicts are other main causes of mental disorders, resulting from stress and hopelessness created by war and conflicts within society. The morbidity and disablement due to mental illness receives very little attention from governments because attention is directed at more conspicuous diseases. Mental health in general is still a poorly funded area of social services in most African countries and, compared to other areas of health, mental health services are poorly developed.
__ Increasing poverty, natural disasters, wars and other forms of violence and social unrest in Africa are major causes of psychosocial problems, which include alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, homelessness of street children, child abuse and domestic violence. In many African countries, the most frequent type of psychosis results from cerebral involvement in infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever or HIV infection. These conditions produce only temporary disability but cause much suffering and can have chronic mental-health consequences if not properly treated. Epilepsy is still highly stigmatized, particularly because it is often considered infectious, which leads to the social isolation of the sufferer.
__ The African Union recognizes a number of constraints to the development of mental-health interventions in Africa, including:
• Lack of awareness of the magnitude of the problem.
• Lack of a reliable information system.
• Insufficient human and financial resources.
• Absence of national mental-health policies.
• Shortage of specialized personnel.
• Constant “brain drain.”
• Widespread civil strife and violence.

There is a growing recognition that mental health is a crucial public health and development issue in Africa. Mental health is finally drawing the attention it deserves in African countries through WHO support. Countries are working on national mental-health policies.
__ In short, mental health is a global challenge facing members of the United Nations today and the world at large. Poor and developing countries do not have adequate capacity to cope with the challenge of mental health, starting with inadequate human resources at all levels, critical infrastructure for caring for mental-health disorders, and medical technology. It is also evident that mitigation of new cases in society could be the best preventive measure, by resolving conflicts, addressing socio-economic development, and using legal and regulatory systems to deter consumption of substances that lead to mental disorders.
__ The lack of, or weak, national policies on mental health leads decision makers to concentrate on more conspicuous diseases because of the publicity they receive from the international community. Lack of early detection mechanisms of mental-health disorders and inadequate specialized hospitals in Africa present a serious challenge. New impetus is needed to raise the issue of mental health as an important agenda item in the health sector. Support must be given to those countries attempting to develop a policy framework on mental health, which will be a linchpin in developing a workable program for mental health. bw

Source: This entry was posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2009 at 10:42 am and is filed under World by http://brainworldmagazine.com

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