Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Africa, gap between need and funding of mental health is huge

Adolescent boys in talk therapy group near Kampala, Uganda. Credit: StrongMinds
This was originally published on Global Health TV on June 29, 2015.

Sean Mayberry has spent his entire life surrounded by mental illness. As a child and an adult, people close to him have endured this affliction. But he had an epiphany when he happened upon a young man behind a farmhouse in Uganda, sitting in his own excrement and digging in the dirt.

“It was a turning point for me,” he recalls. “I left that young man knowing that I had to do something for the mental health of that continent.  He gave me the courage to try to make a difference for some of his mentally ill brothers and sisters.”

Pauline Muchina is dealing with mental illness in her family in Kenya. Her 50-something sister lost her job due to depression and had to come home to live with her mother. She is now on medication and attends counseling.

Muchina also has a nephew suffering from depression. While in a government hospital, he was chained to a bed for one week and his condition got worse. Now the family has found a private rehabilitation center for him. He is getting better but it is costing the family $2,500 for six months. Muchina’s family is middle-class and can pay the treatment (with difficulty), but the vast majority of Kenyans could never afford such expensive treatment.

Mental disorders and substance abuse are the third greatest contributor to the global burden of disability with 23% of the burden – greater than cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Women trying to regain dignity by ending fistula

This blog was originally published on Global Health TV on May 27, 2015.

BAMAKO, Mali — Djantou came here from Fangala, her village northwest of Bamako, to repair her fistula, a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labor without adequate treatment. Djantou’s fistula occurred while she was in labor during her first pregnancy. Her child was stillborn. She wants to have children in the future but she is afraid — both of the operation and of childbirth. Djantou is 15 years old.

Rokia is from the village of Tarasso, near the border with Burkina Faso. Twenty years ago, she also developed fistula during her first pregnancy. The baby was stillborn. “The urine would not stop,” she said. Rokia has had two operations but both failed. She is now awaiting her third operation. Although she is 40 years old, she still very much wants to have children.

Fistula is a tragic condition that leaves women leaking urine, feces or both. It can lead to chronic medical problems and cause social exclusion. Women are often abandoned by their husbands and sometimes by their own families because of their incontinence and unpleasant smell. They face depression and social isolation — either self-imposed or by their sometimes unforgiving communities.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

New development goal falls short of protecting those most at risk of HIV

This ISHTAR wellness center in Nairobi works to ensure that gay men have access to non-discriminatory HIV and sexual health services. Credit: Corrie Wingate for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
This blog was originally published by The Huffington Post on May 8, 2015.

Dominique, 26, realized he was gay in his early adolescence and now sells sex to other men to survive and to support his relatives in Kisii, in western Kenya. He goes regularly to a drop-in center outside Nairobi run by the Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium (KANCO) where he gets a holistic package of HIV and sexual and reproductive health services.  As a result, he is HIV-negative.

Dominique is a good example of why we need to support people most vulnerable to HIV. Yet the language currently proposed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) falls short of prioritizing the most marginalized and vulnerable groups (the SDGs are the new development goals replacing the Millennium Development goals which expire later this year).

Goal 3 of the SDGs is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.” Target 3.8 under this goal commits to Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Unfortunately, the UHC target and indicators do not meet the specific needs of the most marginalized, stigmatized and underserved people in the world — like men who have sex with men (who are 19 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population) and transgender women (who are up to 49 times more likely to acquire HIV than all adults of reproductive age).