A renowned Nigerian mental health specialist is urging the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Health, to apportion at least five percent of its national health budget for mental health concentration in the country.
Nigerian Professor Oye Gureje, Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Mental and Sustenance Use Disorders at the Department of Psychiatry University of Ibadan in Nigeria, told reporters over the weekend that the five percent will not be enough but it would be a good beginning for Liberia, which does not have any appropriation in its national budget to cater to and mitigate mental health problems. The Professor who is in the country as guest of Liberia's Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program (MHLAP), said among disabilities, mental disorders have most horrible consequences, which don't only affect their sufferers, but families, community and society at large. The professor maintained that people need to be aware of mental health challenges or conditions which are not preserved for a particular group of people. The Nigerian health specialist who is also a trained psychiatrist told reporters that everyone is vulnerable and could develop any mental malady just like we contract malaria. “These are illnesses like other common illnesses around us," Prof. Gureje noted. He stated that many mental health conditions are treatable by applying some basic simple steps, which he said are being passed to mental health clinicians who are being trained by various groups, including the Carter Center and WHO. As part of his activities on his visit Prof. Gureje, who is the Project Director of the mhLAP program in English-speaking West Africa, presented at least 500 copies of the Mental Health Gap Action Program to Liberia health authority, which was developed by the WHO. This document, according to the Professor, is a clinical support tool which the WHO developed to be used by non-specialists. The idea is that in many countries, including Liberia, mental health specialists are not enough to meet the challenges of mental health burdens and need to empower those who are not specialists in order for them to receive basic trainings which will allow them to be able to recognize and identify people with depression, psychosis, etc and offer basic first line treatments." According to the WHO estimates, as many as 1 in 5 Liberians suffered a mild to moderate mental disorder, yet the country has only one registered psychiatrist and until recently, the vast majority of health workers had a limited understanding of mental illness. Mr. Ali Sylla, a seasoned mental health clinician and licensed professional counselor recently told a local daily that studies have shown that at least 40 percent of Liberia's population has mental problems and the common one is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mr. Sylla attributed it to the long years of civil war that Liberians went through, while at the same time mental derangement originated from economic hardships facing many Liberians. Few months ago, when the leadership of the Liberia office of the mhLAP was inducted, the Executive Director, Mrs. Samantha Thomas, stressed the need to prioritize the needs of people with mental disabilities. She used the occasion to call on the government to have a separate budget for mental health-related issues. She also called for the continuation of timely supply and availability of psychotropic drugs in all primary health care facilities around the country.