Mental health challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa – moving to implementation (February 2014)
This roundtable topic was formulated in the course of a meeting on the STIAS research theme of Health in Transition. The significance of this topic for the purposes of a roundtable was based on the fact that mental health is one of the most under-served areas of public health and that in terms of the burden of disease it was particularly severe in Africa.
Preparation and organisation
Preparations started with several meetings of the core committee during August of the year preceding the roundtable. The core committee included representatives of local mental health research institutions whose advice was instrumental in identifying participants. The committee was energised by the participation of a STIAS fellow who was involved in the formulation of the research theme of Health in Transition. Invitations and the drafting of the programme was advised by committee members but left to the author for implementation.
Participants included representatives of groups of interest such as persons with psychosocial disabilities, NGOs, policymakers at the level of government departments, academics, research funders, service providers and others from East, West, South and North Africa, as well as colleagues from Sweden, Canada, the US, Germany and the World Health Organization (WHO). The demographic composition was close to gender parity and included authoritative voices form Africa. Though invited, no cabinet ministers attended. Representatives from the South African department of health informed the roundtable about its recently completed roadmap for mental health care.
The roundtable took place over two days. With the exception of the last session, most sessions in the programme consisted of three to four speeches followed by general discussion. One criticism was that this roundtable resembled an academic conference more than an interactive conversation or dialogue. The press was again invited to the last session, consisting of a panel who summarised the main points of the roundtable and especially the future actions to be taken.
Outcomes and impact
The main outcome of this roundtable was a “Declaration on mental health in Africa: moving to implementation” which was written by Abdallah Daar and circulated for comment and signatures in the weeks following the roundtable. Around three-quarters of the participants signed this declaration. It provided an overview of the needs, the available policy instruments and a call to action. It was then peer-reviewed and published in Global Health Action, inviting readers to also sign a related petition (which happened on a significant scale).
A second and significant outcome was a follow-up meeting in September of the same year, sponsored by STIAS, of an interest group which had been formed at the roundtable to take action on its recommendations. One significant result of this meeting was the formation of an African network of mental health stakeholders, which was recognised by the international Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN) and given dedicated space on their monthly newsletter in the form of the MHIN Africa Forum. This initiative remains vibrant and active to this day, evidently providing a valued service to its users.