A visiting Nigerian mental health specialist has urged the Government of Liberia (GoL), through the Ministry of Health, to set aside at least five percent of its national health budget for mental health in the country.
Professor Oye Gureje, Director of World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Mental and Sustenance Use Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, told the Daily Observer in a Daily Observer recent interview that although the five percent would not be enough, but that “it would be a good startup.”
Liberia does not have any part of its national budget set aside to cater to mental health.
The Professor of Psychiatry, who is in the country as a guest of Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program (mhLap), disclosed that among disabilities, mental disorders have the worst consequences, which not only affect sufferers, but families, community and society at large.
“We need to keep advancing the awareness of mental health at all areas, including our various places of work and gatherings. People need to be aware that mental health challenges or conditions are not preserved for a particular group of people. Anyone is vulnerable and could develop any of them just like we contract malaria. These are illnesses like other common illnesses around us,” Prof. Gureje stressed
He, however, stated that many mental health conditions are treatable by applying some basic simple steps, which he said are being passed to mental health clinicians, who are being trained by various groups, including the Carter Center and WHO.
As part of activities for his visit, Prof. Gureje, who is the Project Director of the mhLAP program in English-speaking West Africa, is expected to today present at least 500 copies of the Mental Health Gap Action Program, which was developed by the WHO.
“This document,” according to the Professor, “is a clinical support tool that the WHO developed to be used by non-specialists. The idea is that in many countries, including Liberia, mental health specialists are not enough to meet the challenges of mental health burdens and so we need to empower those who are not specialists in order for them to receive basic trainings that allow them to be able to recognize and identify people with depression, psychosis, etc., and they can offer basic first line treatments.”
He said the booklet was developed to suit Liberia’s mental health activities and intervention.
According to the WHO estimates, as many as 1 in 5 Liberians suffer a mild to moderate mental disorder, yet the country has only one registered psychiatrist and, until recently, the vast majority of health workers had a limited understanding of mental illness.
Mr. Ali Sylla, a seasoned mental health clinician and licensed professional counselor, who is now a Liberia diplomat to the State of Qatar, once told this newspaper that studies have shown that at least 40 percent of Liberia’s population has mental problems and the common one is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mr. Sylla attributed it to the long years of civil war that Liberians went through. Few months ago, when the leadership of the Liberia office of the mhLAP was inducted, the Executive Director, Mrs. Samantha Thomas, stressed the need to prioritize addressing the needs of people with mental disabilities.
She used the occasion to call on the government to have a separate budget for mental health-related issues. She also called for the continuation of timely supply and availability of psychotropic drugs in all primary health care facilities around the country.