Mental Health Reels From Underfunding- MSF

LACK of funding from government and general lack of interest in mental health issues by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in favor of other ailments such as HIV, Cancers and Tuberculosis (TB) makes it difficult to curb the souring cases of mental illness in Zimbabwe, MSF head of Mission Ms Abi Kebra Bilaye has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

Briefing stakeholders during an MSF Presentation of their activities in Zimbabwe, Ms Bilaye said there was massive resentment of mental health by the donor community and this has resulted in poor funding for such initiatives.

“There is not much funding from the donor community towards mental health in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s public health system is currently underfunded. In 2000, the government was able to resource 62.3 percent of the national health budget, this dropped dramatically to 38.3 percent by 2014 and funding levels continue to decline.

Mental health which can sometimes be less visible than other health concerns such as communicable diseases has fared even worse. In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) received only 10 percent of its requested budget for mental health resources,” said Ms Bilaye.

She added that the effects of underfunding can be seen in communities across the country.

“Most health care providers are not trained to diagnose mental illness, leaving many people struggling in silence with difficult conditions. Those who are properly diagnosed find they cannot access free affordable treatment, often drugs are only available from private providers and pharmacies.”

The lack of funding and incessant drug stock outs towards places a financial burden on an already stretched budget of families and caregivers who cannot afford to cover the costs of essential medicines.

According to MSF, people living with mental conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia live their lives in precarious balance between health and illness.

Meanwhile, Harare Psychiatric Project official, Dr Bilal Ahmad said the issue of underfunding together with that of human resources deficit posed a threat to efforts to reduce mental health cases.

“Zimbabwe has only 14 psychiatrists with many of them being in Harare and Bulawayo. This makes it difficult for rural people to access mental health services from experts as at times they do not have the financial resources to travel to urban areas get services.

“Shortage of mental health staff at primary health level is cause for concern. Even if you are to go to Harare poly clinics, not every clinic in Harare has trained mental health trained staff. MSF decided to extend the mental programs to Harare hospital” said Bilal.

He also said before MSF came through, there was no social worker in at Harare central hospital. He also said medication for Mental Health patients was not enough and there need to scale up efforts to mobilise more medicines for mental health.

Over the past two years, MSF has trained not less than 259 healthcare providers in Zimbabwe on basic mental health using the World Health Organisation (WHO) mental healthcare training guidelines Mental Health Gap Action plan (mhGP).

MSF also provided US$60 000 worth of psychotropics to cover gaps in drug access in 2017, this included 100 percent coverage of the Chikurubi maximum prison psychiatric needs, essential top-ups for Harare Psychiatric unit discharge patients and others served by the Harare city polyclinics and one satellite clinic.












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