The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, and one of WHO Representatives, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, and a team from the World Health Organization (WHO), led by the WHO Representative, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam have committed to working together to address and promote mental health challenges in the country.

In a meeting attended by among others, the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health, led by its chairperson, Macho Godfrey, Busia Municipality, aimed to create a solid basis for close collaboration to address mental health issues in Uganda, which account for 3.14% of the country’s total disease burden.

“The burden of mental health disorders is high in Uganda and COVID-19 has further reinforced this burden. We need to seriously think about expanding mental health services at the grassroots level, as it is at the district level that the treatment gap can be adequately addressed.” Among said.

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The Deputy Speaker of Parliament also called for a mechanism to provide counselling services to children before they return to school due to the stress they have experienced during the pandemic and the trauma and stigma caused by COVID-19 cases recorded in schools.

The WHO Representative to Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam said, “Mental health problems are driven by many factors, including environmental factors, drug abuse and now the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need for concrete action to ensure the good mental health of Ugandans.”

He further said that mental health issues cannot be addressed by the Ministry of Health and WHO alone, but also the support of parliamentarians to take the message to their various communities is needed.

Despite the universal nature and magnitude of mental illness, the gap between the demand for mental health services and supply remains large. Relatively few people in Uganda have access to quality mental health services. The serious gaps in mental health care that remain are the result of decades of chronic under-investment in mental health promotion, prevention and care seen in most developing countries. Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people with mental disorders remain widespread.

The United Nations has made several resolutions and declarations for strategies and guidelines to guide countries on prevention and control of mental disorders and promotion of mental health since 1975 including a comprehensive mental health action plan 2013-2030 and the definition of mental health, and human rights (2020).

In addition, to this support, there is a need to develop appropriate messages on mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention to combat stigma and discrimination; strengthen multi-sectoral collaboration and encourage partnerships with all stakeholders, including local and international NGOs, and prioritize teachers and students at all levels; to strengthen community-based mental health services by training primary health workers to promote the integration of mental health in primary health care.

During the meeting, WHO pledged to provide technical support to the Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health to review and finalize its draft strategic plan, development of a monitoring tool and a dashboard to enable the parliamentary forum to track implementation at the district level, and to assist the PFMH in organizing capacity-building workshops on mental health for Members of Parliament.