Africa has come of age for her mental health experts to conduct ground breaking researches based on the peculiar needs of the continent and not to be overtly dependent on the research output of the west which often times doesn’t take into consideration Africa’s unique situations.

It is bad enough that there are very few psychiatrists in the continent. Nigeria the supposed ‘Giant of Africa’ has less than 400 psychiatrists to attend to the needs of its over 20 million psychiatric patients.

The contemptuous regard for mental healthcare professionals and poor working conditions have made many flee the continent to saner climes like Europe, Asia, North America and Oceania. Majority of the practitioners in the continent are also plotting to escape the poverty that the curse of bad leadership has forced on the continent.

It is therefore heart warming to see an innovative research work being conducted by an African mental health practitioner resident in the continent which will serve as a beacon of hope for the rest here.

Dr. Sandra Jumbe was recently awarded a fellowship by the African Academy of Sciences to progress her youth mental health research in Malawi.

Dr. Jumbe is a health psychologist with expertise in health research and behaviour change solutions focusing on how biological, social and psychological factors have an influence on health and illness. Her area of expertise includes developing and delivering health interventions in clinical and non-clinical settings. Her current research interests are centred largely around substance abuse. Previously, she worked in the UK National Health Service (NHS) as a primary care and mental health researcher and in research governance. Her consulting interests include tailored stress management in corporate organizations.

Malawi has in recent times witnessed the rapid deterioration in the mental health of many of her youths and a rise in substance use and abuse.

This research fellowship is great as it is locally suited to meet the mental health needs of her native Malawi as opposed to the flurry of grants from international donor agencies that are not really in sync with the needs of the locals.

Dr. Jumbe’s recent fellowship will spur many African based mental health practitioners to do more in the space as the West wouldn’t save our healthcare.

The budgetary allocation to healthcare and going specifically to mental healthcare should also be increased as in most of the 54 African countries it is so miniscule and can hardly make an impact. That needs to change. Mental Health Care Advocates should mount pressure on the Health Officials to exponentially increase the budgetary allocation so that Africans especially the mentally challenged can have better access to mental health care.

Also, Philanthropists in the continent should set up foundations or fund mental health care research in the best interest of the continent.

I recall interviewing two mental health care experts in Nigeria and asking a similar question: Do all mental health patients need to be on medications for life? They both replied in the negative but it contradicts the position of a senior psychiatrist in Nigeria who boldly said that lifelong medication is the fate of all psychiatrist patients. Also, the body language of psychiatrists with their reluctance to wean off patients off the medication is a subtle endorsement of the assertion that patients need to be on them for life. This ambiguity can only be resolved through intense mental health research which the continent is of age to conduct and adequately finance.

Mental Health Care Professionals could also form think tanks and use them as a vehicle of public policy influencing with regards to the health sector.

Thumbs up Dr. Jumbe for not only shattering the glass ceiling but in being a beacon of hope for the lethargic mental health professionals in Africa who are weighed down by the continent’s myriad of challenges.

More power to your elbow Ma!

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