The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF on Monday called for more investment in mental health services in Africa where the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the gaps that exist in mental health care.
The two UN agencies, in a joint statement issued in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to mark World Mental Health Day confirmed commitment to joint action to make mental health a priority.
Mohamed M. Fall, UNICEF regional director for eastern and southern Africa, said the impact of violence or humanitarian crises is not limited to economic impact, noting that the invisible wounds suffered by communities must also be at the heart of the interventions. “The psychological distress in which hundreds of thousands of children and parents live across the continent has a dramatic impact on individuals and by extension on the well-being and development of societies,” Fall said.
The UN agencies said children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable, adding that Africa has one of the highest numbers of children and adolescents globally. They said the last 12 months have seen families and communities under growing strain as a result of the impact of climate shocks, global inflation and economic hardship.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are facing extreme droughts, while in the Sahel area, armed groups have stepped up exactions on communities, leading to massive displacement, the UN agencies said.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said mental health is integral to wholesome health and well-being. “The greatest challenge to adequate mental health service provision in Africa is the chronically low investments by governments. It’s time for a radical change,” Moeti said.
The UN agencies said the serious gaps that exist in mental health care in the region are a result of historic under-investment in mental health promotion, prevention and care.
The two agencies in 2020 agreed on a ten-year partnership on mental health, which seeks to address some of the main challenges to mental health and limitations in access to support.
Joint initiatives are underway in Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, with both agencies working with governments to scale up mental health and psychosocial support services across sectors, according to the UN agencies.
According to the UN, responses to mental health need to encompass support beyond the area of specialized mental health services, including child and family services, education, protection, violence prevention, community support, housing and social protection. ■