South Africa places mental health care on the global and national agenda

25 Oct 2011 - 12:00

The week of the 17 – 21 October 2011 witnessed Cape Town and southern Africa hosting an international conference on mental health for the very first time, placing mental health care higher on the agenda of many participating countries.

The conference began with the 2nd Summit of the Movement for Global Mental Health, a unique meeting in which professionals and persons affected by mental disorders have the opportunity to engage with each other in discussions and debates. Topics covered during the sessions included mental health care; human rights and advocacy; and funding for global mental health. The meeting concluded with the launch of the Second Lancet Series on Global Mental Health. Work on the Lancet Series began in 2009 as a joint initiative between the volunteer-driven Movement for Global Mental Health, and one of the world’s leading general medical journals, The Lancet.

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PRIME Partners engage at the 2nd Global Mental Health Summit: A/Prof Crick Lund (left); Dr Shekhar Saxena and Dr Simone Honikman (centre); and Dr Ritz Kakuma (right)

The official opening of the main meeting, the World Congress of the World Federation for Mental Health, witnessed the South African Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, and civil society, represented by the head of the South African Federation for Mental Health, Rachel Tambo, address the global audience on the dire need for mental health care. The Deputy Minister emphasised the urgency of mental health care, and suggested that if not addressed, the lack of care will continue to perpetuate a range of negative socio-economic consequences.

One such programme which responds to the need for mental health services is the PRogramme for Improving Mental health carE (PRIME). PRIME is a consortium of researchers and policy-makers developing evidence on the best way to expand mental health service delivery in five developing countries in Africa and Asia. PRIME is led by the Centre for Public Mental Health at the University of Cape Town. PRIME focuses on priority mental, neurological and substance use disorders, including alcohol abuse, depression (including maternal depression), psychosis and epilepsy.

Both speakers representing government and civil society highlighted their personal commitment to mental health at the conference opening. With respect to South Africa, the Deputy Minister announced the convening of a National Mental Health Summit in early 2012.

The Summit aims to develop a contemporary and evidenced-based strategic plan for mental health, which is also responsive to South Africa’s proposed National Health Insurance (NHI). Amongst other stakeholders, a range of PRIME partners have been invited to make contributions to the national summit, including Dr Shekhar Saxena (WHO), A/Prof Crick Lund (PRIME CEO, Centre for Public Mental Health, UCT), Prof Inge Petersen (University of Kwazulu-Natal) and Prof Arvin Bhana (Human Sciences Research Council). The Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town, Prof Dan Stein, will also contribute to the summit.   

Commending such a global meeting of mental health stakeholders, the Deputy Minister expressed her confidence and support by stating: “We will be keenly listening to the variety of presentations, case studies and research outcomes shared at this congress. We have no doubt that the mental health sector will never be the same again, especially in South Africa and on the continent.”

Video: SA Deputy Minister of Health opens World Mental Health Congress in Cape Town