Carter Center leaders are hailing this week’s enactment of a national mental-health law in Liberia as a watershed moment for health in the West African nation and proof that persistence and partnerships pay off.
Signed in July by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the law prohibits discrimination based on mental illness and provides access to care in all 15 counties of the country of 4.3 million people. Five years in the making, the law is a stark change in a place where mental illness is still sometimes stigmatized or treated as a spiritual disorder.
The Atlanta-based center began working with Liberia in 2010 to reduce stigma toward mental illness and expand access to care. At the time, the country had just one psychiatrist and only a few nurses trained in mental health care. Over time, the center helped train clinicians to diagnose treat mental disorders in various contexts, from the classroom to the delivery room.
Now, the country has four psychiatrists and more than 230 mental health clinicians, with more than 60 trained to treat children and adolescents, according to a Carter Center news release.
“We are grateful for the Ministry of Health’s perseverance since 2010 in getting this legislation passed, and are honored to work as partners to strengthen Liberia’s capacity to address the mental health and therefore overall health needs of its citizens,” said Eve Byrd, Carter Center Mental Health Program director, in a release that also outlines the achievements of the newly trained clinicians:
Clinicians have opened 14 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, treated refugees from the Ivory Coast conflict, supported the nation’s first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), and provided psychosocial support to individuals and families affected by the Ebola virus. Three classes of graduates have specialized child and mental health for Liberian youth.
None of this would have been possible without funding from the Japan Social Development Fund, administered by the World Bank.
Japan’s focus on global health, particularly the Liberia program, was the focus of a Nov. 1 event organized at the Carter Center with help from the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta.
Among the speakers were Yosuke Kobayashi, senior representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s U.S. office, and Charles Hancock, associate director of the center’s Liberia mental health program. Dr. Byrd moderated their panel discussion.
Mr. Kobayashi discussed Japan’s strides toward universal health care and its work in the 1990s with the Carter Center aiming to eradicate Guinea Worm disease from the African continent.