The outgoing Minister of Health, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, has urged donors of the Mental Health Programs of the three worst hit Ebola nations to allow the authorities of those countries to run their own programs void of donors’ influences.
“For those of you who are donors here helping the three countries — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone —you can only take care of something that belongs to you, something that you call your own. If these countries have mental health programs, you should help them strengthen their programs so they can own their programs and run them.
“You should not go as a donor to any of these countries to run the mental health programs of Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia,” Dr. Gwenigale, who is noted for not mincing his words, told a gathering of health practitioners and their partners.
This is the first international gathering of mental health technicians and donor agencies to discuss the mental health status of people affected by the EVD.
These health stakeholders are meeting in Monrovia, at a local hotel where they are having a technical consultation on mental health and psychosocial support for people affected by the Ebola virus disease. The meeting which began yesterday ends today.
Speaking further, Min. Gwenigale urged the donors to not run the mental health programs for any of the three nations. “Let the Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans run their own programs with your support. That is the only way they will be able to do it.”
He stated that the three nations already have mental health programs and that donors should look at those blue prints and support them but should not “plant something new in these countries.”
Before he formally declared the two-day meeting open, Min. Gwenigale reminded the audience that the mental health situations in both Liberia and Sierra Leone didn’t just start with Ebola but go back as far as the civil war years in both nations.
“The warlords gave our children liquors, drugs to make them brave to fight their wars. Those children, some of whom have never been to school are out there. Some are addicts and some are drug pushers. So, substance abuse is a part of the mental health program that we have in Liberia and we are trying to deal with all of these issues.”
Speaking earlier, head of the Incident Management System (IMS), Assistant Health Minister Tolbert G. Nyenswah said the meeting could not have come at a more appropriate time.
Mr. Nyenswah said the technical consultation and psychosocial support meeting was timely because the MRU basin is battling the deadly EVD, which has consequences of mental health and psychosocial effects on the wellbeing of the peoples of the three nations.
He urged everyone to take the issues of mental health and psychosocial support seriously.
“Emergencies like Ebola can exacerbate the already prevalent mental health conditions or further worsen them,” he stated.
He also said that before Ebola, the Liberian government had taken measures to integrate mental health in the mean stream healthcare of the country.
“This is why working with Carter Center and other partners, we have trained mental health clinicians, provided drugs and other tools for them to work with,” he added. However, he was quick to point out that Liberia has not yet arrived and was still a long way out.
For his part, Dr. Alex Gasasira, Country Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) Office in Liberia, expressed WHO support for the meeting. Dr. Gasasira further stated that the three countries have made strides in stopping the transmission of the EVD.
However, only Liberia among the three is now Ebola virus transmission free while the Guinea and Sierra Leone are still reporting confirmed cases.
At the end of meeting today, the participants are hoping to produce “a roadmap of mental health systems recovery and development with special focus on overcoming barriers in the three countries.