Picture: Thys Dullaart
Picture: Thys Dullaart

Global mental health targets missed in 2020, access remains unequal in Africa

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Oct 11, 2021

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The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on global inequalities and mental health care. However, a new report has found that many countries worldwide have failed to provide people with the mental health services they need.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report leading up to World Mental Health Day, which was celebrated on Sunday, 10 October, that showed a number of mental health targets were “not close to being achieved”.

The Mental Health Atlas report revealed that the targets missed included effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems.

Issued every three years, the Atlas is a compilation of data provided by 171 countries around the world on mental health policies, legislation, financing, human resources, availability and utilisation of services and data collection systems.

The report, for which data were collected in 2019, found that while there was an increase in mental health promotion in the Member States, the effectiveness and implementation of the programs was questionable.

“Thirty one percent of total reported programmes did not have dedicated human and financial resources, 27% did not have a defined plan, and 39% had no documented evidence of progress and/or impact,” according to the WHO.

Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the report should be a wake-up call to dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health.

“It is extremely concerning that despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the Covid-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment.”

Meanwhile, Unicef highlighted the need for increased investment and access to mental health prevention and response services on the African continent.

According to the WHO, at least one in seven children in sub-Saharan Africa experiences significant psychological hardship.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said that investment in mental health remains extremely low in Africa.

“We simply cannot afford to let millions of children needing care go without help. It is time to make a difference and ensure that children grow into adulthood free of the potentially lifelong and devastating impacts of unaddressed mental health challenges,” she said.

Unicef Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Fall, said children and adolescents are at risk of developing mental health problems, especially vulnerable children facing poverty, discrimination and violence.

“The lack of access to basic social, health and education services, combined with wide-reaching structural inequalities, are all known to be aggravating risks for mental ill-health,” he said.

In order to respond to this growing crisis, Unicef and the WHO committed to a 10-year Joint Programme on Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-being and Development of Children and Adolescents in Africa.

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