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‘Urgent’ need for research into African mental health


Mental health services a neglected part of continent’s healthcare, report says

There is an “urgent need” for more research into mental health in Africa, despite increasing investments in such research and a higher awareness of mental health issues, a report has found.

The report, published at the end of April, is the outcome of workshops held in November last year that brought researchers from the United Kingdom and Africa together to discuss mental health research challenges on the continent.

The workshops, featuring 70 participants from across the continent, were a collaboration between the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences and the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Presentations at the workshop “highlighted various ways in which mental health issues challenge our society”, Assaf chief executive Himla Soodyall said in a statement accompanying the publication of the report.

Neglected aspect

There has been an increase in the investments made in African mental health research, and awareness of mental health issues has grown on the continent, the workshops heard.

However, mental health services are still a neglected aspect of Africa’s healthcare system, and workshop participants agreed there is an “urgent need” for additional research across all states of mental health.

Participants suggested strengthening and diversifying data sources for future studies. There is a need for more information on disease burdens and priority populations, as well as social determinants of illness, they agreed.

Research also needs to be more interdisciplinary and be based on partnerships, with greater sub-regional and international collaboration, the workshops heard.

Training priority

One of the workshops focused on the need to train more mental health professionals in Africa.

A second report, from that workshop, suggests ways to support personal and professional development of researchers, including diverse types of mentoring, technical training, leadership development, as well as coaching.

Tom Solomon, vice president of international affairs at the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, said in a statement that many global health challenges, including mental health, require international collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The partnership between his academy and South Africa’s Assaf is an example of such a collaboration, he noted. “Our partnership [enables us] to help drive a more progressive and open research sector, and to foster the next generation of research leaders globally,” he said.