A regional approach to mental health is influencing change in West Africa

by CBM Australia

(NGO)

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The Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program is working towards mental health reform in five countries of West Africa.

Project implemented: 2015-2019

Project goal

The project aims to reduce the disability that is associated with mental illness in five countries of West Africa.

delivering on

why is this project important?

CBM, Universities of Melbourne and of Ibadan, collaborated to develop mhLAP. It sits within a suite of regional efforts.

Key steps to make it happen

1Leadership training

Champions trained together from five countries in leadership and advocacy for mental health reform.

2Stakeholder councils

Stakeholder councils developed in each country and become registered as peak bodies for mental health.

3Awareness raising

Stakeholder councils raise awareness and work with government for change of mental health policy and services.

4mhGAP training

Training of trainers in the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Program (mhGAP) who support mental health in primary health care.

5Quality Rights training

Key people trained in the WHO Quality Rights Toolkit to address human rights standards in mental health facilities.

6Community attitudes

Awareness raising at community level and with traditional healers to challenge traditional attitudes and promote inclusion.

New mental health legislation is in place in Ghana as a result of the project.

In The Gambia the project has resulted in development of a national mental health policy and strategic plan, and there is work to update legislation into a progressive mental health law aligned to human rights legislation like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A local campaign to eliminate harmful human rights violations has been developed in The Gambia, called Drop the Cane and Chain. This approach has seen strong success. For example mhLAP's facilitator in The Gambia Dawda Samba (pictured) explained how in one community use of the chain and cane by traditional healers has reduced. Previously, this approach was used with approximately one third of people with mental health issues who were brought to traditional healers. A recent survey indicated the practice is now used with approximately five per cent of people presenting.

The Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program (mhLAP) is a regional initiative working to train, build change and advocate for mental health reform in five countries of West Africa (The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone). mhLAP is supported by CBM and has received funding through the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program.

Key “champions” from each country with interest or influence in mental health participate in leadership and advocacy training. Stakeholder councils are then formed, develop action plans and work with their governments to influence policy development and improve availability and quality of mental health services. The project also provides training in the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Gap Action Program (mhGAP); introduces the WHO Quality Rights Toolkit to assess and improve quality of care in mental health services; and works with traditional healers to change attitudes and practices at grassroots level.

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