Aga Khan University’s Brain and Mind Institute, BMI, in collaboration with the University’s Medical College, have received a global engagement seed grant from the Paris-based International Brain Research Organization, IBRO, that aims to raise awareness about the importance of mental health across Kenya.
In Kenya, the poor, and those without formal schooling, lack easy access to information, support and treatment pertaining to mental disorders. The project will promote knowledge and understanding about common disorder while addressing stigmas about mental health in the country’s population, alongside targeted initiatives to meet the needs of the nation’s marginalised communities.
Activities under the project include engagement events, community sessions, webinars, and radio talk shows. Informational and educational materials will be translated in six local Kenya dialects other than English and Swahili to ensure wide reach.
The project leads are BMI’s Neuroscientist Professor Amadi Ihunwo and BMI Associate Faculty Professor Pauline Samia, who is also a paediatric neurologist and chair of the department of paediatrics & child health at AKU.
According to the World Health Organization, mental, neurological and substance use disorders account for 10 per cent of the global burden of disease and 30 per cent of non-fatal diseases. Around 1 in 5 of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental disorder and the vast proportion of mental disorders for adults and children occur in low- and middle-income countries.
“Through this grant, implementation will include building public awareness and knowledge through ‘Listen and Share’ sessions involving individuals with lived experience,” said Prof Ihunwo. “Government policymakers will be encouraged to heed the growing burden of mental disorders in Kenya.” Prof Samia adds: “We will focus on autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy in children as they are highly stigmatised in African societies”.
One of the strategic and priority actions under the Kenya Mental Health Action Plan 2021 – 2025, targets the establishment of multi-sectoral promotion and prevention programs on mental health at national and county levels. “Establishing and strengthening partnerships will be a component of the project, we will therefore work with several stakeholders including the Kenya Ministry of Health, health practitioners, policymakers, government agencies, students and parents,” said Professor Zul Merali, BMI’s founding director.
This engagement and advocacy work aligns with the Aga Khan University’s Integrated Mental Health Framework, which champions raising awareness, promotion of well-being as well as prevention through resilience building and self-management.