Zim losing US$163 million to mental health disorders per year

Lack of support for mental health issues is costing Zimbabwe US$163 million annually, a leading psychologist said on Wednesday noting more money could be saved if funding or investment in interventions is availed by Government, private sector and technical funders.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

Speaking on the sidelines of the Abused Substances Diagnostics and Management (ASDM) launch, Dr Gwatirera Javangwe in the Department of Applied Psychology at the University of Zimbabwe told HealthTimes the country is losing a lot of money due to the huge burden of mental health issues.

“Currently in Zimbabwe, it is we are here at a time when we have the results of the Ministry of Health and Child Care Investment into what we now know as the Zimbabwe mental health investment case. And it clearly indicates the current burden of mental health conditions as clearly shown in terms of the value. Currently it indicates we have a burden of US$163 million per year. This is the amount of money we are losing as a country due to unidentified or unscreened, untreated mental health conditions some of which include drug and substance abuse,” he said.

He added Zimbabwe is also losing US$8.8 million indirectly to workplace truancy.

“There is a direct healthcare expenditure of US$8.8 million of indirect costs emanating from workforce absenteeism, illnesses around that,” he said. “We need to start with the early understanding of the burden and as we currently noticed, we noted we are losing millions of dollars in terms of the money people use for health care as well as money lost by companies when people become absent from work or they ask for sick leave for drug related problems.”

Dr Javangwe added Zimbabwe needs more than half a million in United States dollars for interventions to mitigate mental health issues.

“The investment required for the next 20 years is such that USD518.4 million for selected clinical programs and population based preventive programs next year. This indicates the need for early screening,” he said.

He also said drug and substance abuse required over US$124 million of investments for the interventions needed compared to other mental health disorders.

“Different mental health diseases need certain investments. But for the purposes of this meeting, I will zero in on Alcohol and Substance misuse program which is at US$124.5 million that we need to inject into screening, treatment and other facets during the value chain. If we are going to look at abused substances as a value chain, this is the amount of money we must inject in order to really salvage ourselves and our nation,” Dr Javangwe said. “The current of investment for the next two years? If we inject that amount, we are going to have a USD1.4billion. So, from drug and substance abuse, we need to invest and the return on investment for the next two years in USD179 million that we will have saved if we were to invest in strategies to curb alcohol and substance use disorders. To that effect we are simply saying we need to act now.”

He noted that screening for drug, alcohol and substance abuse should start as early as at primary school level.

“The starting point is screening. We need to start screening in our primary schools, secondary schools. But we also need to provide mental health literacy and psychoeducation for all members of the communities,” Dr Javangwe said.  “We also need to empower families to be able to provide support because most of the times people continue hooking onto drugs because they are not supported by their families. The people in the family isolate them, and also demonize them. So, we really adequate support. And these families are doing it out of ignorance. They don’t know how to react, respond to this challenge. We are also saying the problem affects even professionals and even people from well to do families. We need a robust mechanism to deal with this issue.”

Dr Javangwe stated that since the scourge of drug, alcohol and substance use disorders affects the nation inasmuch as it does individuals and families, a private-public partnership in availing funds for requisite interventions was necessary.

“There are a number of stakeholders. Drug and substance abuse does not affect only an individual or the family. It affects the nation. It affects the companies. We have corporates. We have even governments. We have technical funders and a number of other stakeholders that my have an interest in this,” he said noting, “The government itself must put aside a certain percentage of the fiscus towards drug and substance abuse prevention.”

He said, “We should have a national drug and substance abuse intervention strategy. For each mental health disorder, we should have a clear national strategy. For example, a suicide prevention strategy because people also die by suicide, some drive machinery or even vehicles. They may injure or maim people. We need to understand that nobody is spared. Remember it also leads to crime and we are also saying pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs should also chip in. they should also come on board and help provide the funds that help fight and ensure responsible prescription drugs.”

Interministerial Taskforce on Drug and Substance Abuse representative Mr Fanuel Dzoma said the prevalence of drug abuse is said to beat 57.1 percent among young people with crystal meth, cocaine, broncleer, marijuana and alcohol being the most commonly abused drugs and substances.

“Children as young as 10 years and adults well above 50 years of age are abusing drugs and substances,” he said.

Meanwhile, officiating the ASDM launch, UZ College of Health Sciences Head of Chemical Pathology Department Professor Hilda Matarira said the launch comes at the nick of time such as the festive period where FaStep Zimbabwe will be offering free drug and substance abuse testing as well as prostate cancer testing.

The ASDM initiative includes Pamumvuri, FaStep, Inside Wellbeing and other organisations.

FaStep Sales and Marketing officer Mrs Chengeto Nyanzira said this free service will be provided until January 3, next year.

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