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UN calls for increased African mental and neurological health spending

6 Nov 2001

Representatives from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo and Rwanda were among participants from 15 African nations who agreed to lobby their governments to contribute at least 10 per cent of the health budget for treatment of mental illness and neurological conditions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced.

Most participants at a recent conference organised by the WHO in Harare, Zimbabwe, said their governments only allocate one per cent or less of the national health budget to mental illness and other brain conditions.

Following four days of deliberations that also served as the regional launch of the World Health Report 2001, participants agreed that this area of health did not get the required governmental attention it deserves, even though it affects more than 450 million people globally. For its part, WHO's Regional Office for Africa urged governments and health professionals to advocate for people with mental and neuological conditions worldwide - especially in Africa, where most of the patients live.

The participants from the African countries and others from WHO headquarters in Geneva called for the creation of organisations that could help patients in their countries, much like groups who speak on behalf of AIDS and TB patients. At present, only a handful of countries globally have associations concerned with the plight of people with mental disorders and neuological conditions.

There was widespread agreement that people suffering from conditions ranging from depression to epilepsy should be treated within their communities or family environment rather than in institutions. Participants resolved to mobilise resources and technical aid in their countries for the benefit of mental patients, and agreed to train a multidisciplinary team for intervention in emergency situations. They also called for the integration of mental illness and neurological conditions into national primary health care systems, the provision of support for operational research on community-based rehabilitation and increased interregional cooperation.