Inaugural GEI delegation exploring mental health in Botswana
by Waleed Fatth (GEI Global Programs Manager, Berlin)
The inclusion of mental health services in primary healthcare systems is a hotly debated topic in international healthcare circles. For decades, leading global institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) have advocated for a complete integration of mental healthcare. Despite significant progress, many challenges remain. For example, accessibility is frequently hindered by the centralization of these services, particularly in developing countries.
Botswana is one of the big development success stories in Africa. Over the past decades, the country recorded some of the fastest growth in per capita income in the world. It is also a very good example of an African model of decentralized community-based mental healthcare. Psychiatric and mental health services have largely developed under the purview of the nursing profession, and nurses are still the predominant providers of care. A community-based mental healthcare plan, in place since 1978, operates alongside traditional medicine / indigenous practices in many places, particularly outside the capital. Traditional healers (Dingaka) have legal status in the country, and many in Botswana still prefer them when it comes to mental illnesses and only seek assistance from the “Western” system when the traditional approach fails. Stigma around mental health issues also plays a huge role in a family’s decision to get help for family members with a mental illness.
Together with our international mental health partners, we regularly explore mental healthcare systems in different African countries, build strong relationships with the local mental health communities, and conduct assessments of capacity development needs which subsequent delegations address in long-term commitments. Following our work in Rwanda, South Africa and, soon, Malawi, we are now launching our collaboration in Botswana with an inaugural delegation this summer that will initiate our engagement with the country’s mental health community and explore the status and needs of its mental health system. This delegation will be led by Dr. Nada Stotland, a Past President of the American Psychiatric Association, and it is open for professionals and advanced students from mental health-related fields. If this program is of interest to you, you can find more information here.