Global health policy - 26/May/2021

Kenya shines light on mental health crisis sweeping Africa

A new commitment by Kenya’s leaders helped move mental illness onto the health agenda, yet political will was only the beginning of the journey. The country’s first steps towards meeting the mental health needs of its population illustrate the broader obstacles to extending psychological care throughout the African continent.

For ten long years, Mutahi Kagwe visited Nairobi’s Mathari Mental Hospital where his close friend, a once brilliant scientist, was confined. Kagwe saw at first hand the conditions at the century-old psychiatric treatment centre, the largest in Kenya, as his friend lost a long battle with mental illness. “It broke my heart when he died,” recalled Kagwe in 2019. At the time Kagwe had just been appointed Kenya’s Minister of Health. Kagwe did not let his personal knowledge of the tragedy that is severe mental illness go to waste. The experience, he said, changed his perception about mental health in Kenya. He became aware of the scarcity of hospitals dedicated to mental health and the ill-equipped state of those that existed. As Kagw ...

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