By Sola Ogundipe
AS part of the commitment of Federal government to boost the health of all Nigerians especially the mentally ill, efforts are in top gear to integrate mental health care into the mainstream health services at theÂ primary healthcare level.
Disclosing this in Abuja during the World Psychiatric Association Regional Meeting held in Abuja, recently, Minister for Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin said mental health is being addressed at the integrated level of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the primary care level.
Speaking during the eventÂ with the theme: â€œScaling Up and Reaching Down-Addressing Unmet Need For Serviceâ€, Osotimehin observed that despite common knowledge from research of the high burden of mental health problems in the Nigerian community, paradoxically,Â only a small proportion (10-20) per cent have access to any form of specific treatment.
â€œWhat we are sayingÂ is that we need to expand access to mental health services. We need to do that generally and deliberately to reach the downtrodden and the vulnerable, hence the theme.
â€œThe consequences of this development are enormous, but we areÂ optimistic that the World Health Organisationâ€™s (WHO) mental gap health action launched by the Director GeneralÂ in 2008 will go a long way in addressing this problem in Nigeria and other developing countries.â€
Noting that this scaling up of activities is essential and is part of the Africa regional effort for mental health, Osotimehin said it was a callÂ for action for all stakeholders to join handsÂ in sensitisation and utilisation of all available resources for mental health.
According to the Minister, â€œIt is disturbing to note that Nigeria with a population of more than 140 million people has less than 130 psychiatrists, which is less than one psychiatrist per million population. It is even more worrisome for psychiatric nursing. So we are not looking after our people adequately when it comes to psychiatry.â€
He lamented that many newly trained psychiatrists are going abroad in search of greener pasture. â€œAs a result, we continue to have a small critical mass of people who are supposed to do this work.Â Our men and women with treatable mental illnesses should no longer be allowed to wander aimlessly or surrendered to the asylum.â€There was a policy roundtable in addressing gaps of the Africa region for commitment from all member nations to effect action and initiate local partnerships to initiate better and more coherent relationships.
â€œThere are several challenges affecting integration of mental health into primary healthcare, we shall continue to strive to ensure this is achieved.Â Government through the Ministry of Health is also scaling up mental health services. Our tertiary health institutions including the eight neuro-psychiatristÂ are being repositioned andÂ young doctors and nurses are being encouraged to take up the specialty of psychiatry.
He said all university hospitals across the Federation have a psychiatry department,just asÂ the mental health policy and Bill is being reviewed at all levels and awaiting finalisation and adoption.