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Monday, December 11, 2023

Investing in brain health can boost individual and community wellbeing


Mental health receives just 2% of all health funding, and the figure falls to 1% in low and middle-income countries

Health experts and neuroscientists have convened in Nairobi to explore innovative solutions and strategies which will address the impact that mental health and neuroscience have on individuals, communities, and societies.

Themed “Healing the Brain: Bridging the Gap in LMICs”, the conference, which began yesterday and is set to end on Friday, November 17, is expected to address the obstacles that countries in the global south face in addressing brain health issues including access to care, insufficient research, development and funding, cultural barriers towards help-seeking behaviour and a general lack of awareness by the population.

“Globally, mental health receives just 2 percent of all health funding, and the figure falls to 1 percent in lower-income countries. In lower-income countries, only a third of national health insurance plans cover mental health conditions such as depression, and there are just 2 mental health workers for every 100,000 people. Here in Africa, mental health research constitutes just 2 percent of all health research. Yet the continent’s suicide rate is the highest of any World Health Organization region, with the rate for men 40 percent higher than the global rate,” Aga khan University President Dr. Sulaiman Shahabuddin said yesterday.

The conference, inspired by Brain & Mind Institute, an establishment that hopes to rally communities, governments, and practitioners in developing countries to make “great strides” in prevention, treatment, and awareness efforts to the silent pandemic, comes at a time when globally, the World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety costs the world economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

The Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Investment Case 2021 put the burden of mental health conditions at Sh62.2 as a cumulative cost for medical bills for mental health conditions, lost productivity through absenteeism, presenteeism and premature deaths.

Additionally, the World Economic Forum forecasts that the cost of mental health conditions is projected to rise to $6 trillion globally by 2030. It is in this regard that neuroscientists, researchers, and mental health experts are calling for intervention and investment in brain health.

“The burden of mental illness is the largest of all diseases put together, with great implications for the socio-economic development of our countries. Each of us has a role to play to address this hidden pandemic. We hope that through our expertise, experience, and facilitating continuous engagements with all relevant stakeholders, we will help communities appreciate mental health disorders as illnesses like other illnesses and treat them as such,” Prof Zul Merali, the founding director of Brain & Mind Institute, said.

Prof. Lukoye Atwoli, who is the deputy director of the same establishment lauded the conference as a step in the right direction to address the challenges facing brain health in low- and middle-income countries.

“This inaugural conference seeks to begin these critical conversations and bring on board partners across the board to journey with BMI in achieving our vision of a healthy brain, and healthy world, by putting in measures that culminate in bringing the right care at the right time to the right place. Together we will go far,” said Prof. Atwoli.

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