How Rwanda is spearheading efforts to tackle mental health

Find out how Rwanda is spearheading efforts to tackle mental health issues. Photo by: Will Swanson

KIGALI, Rwanda — Around 12% of people in sub-Saharan Africa live with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and alcohol and drug use disorders — a figure that’s likely to be higher following COVID-19.

In Rwanda, the percentage of people with a mental illness is thought to be above the regional average and, according to the experts Devex spoke to, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi may be a major contributing factor.

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Explore how Rwanda, in partnership with J&J, is spearheading efforts to tackle mental health issues.

During the national period of commemoration, which begins in April each year, a large number of people experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorders with panic attacks, said Dr. Bizoza Rutakayire, a psychiatrist and a senior consultant in psychiatry at Caraes Ndera.

As a result of the number of people affected, Rwanda has taken steps to make the provision of mental health services a priority. A year after the genocide, the Rwandan government developed a mental health policy, making it among the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to have one. And in 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set ambitious new targets for expanding mental health care services within the community, including through decentralization and integration into primary health care.

A five-year collaboration between the Rwanda Ministry of Health and the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies is building upon the work the government has done thus far in improving mental health care and strengthening efforts to develop a model of affordable quality care.

The collaboration — which launched in 2018 — takes a three-pronged approach and, if successful, could serve as a proof of concept model for other countries in the region, and potentially around the world, said Dr. Kivwanga Mwaniki, global execution leader of mental health at J&J.

Access this visual story: Join Devex on the ground in Rwanda as we explore how the country in partnership with J&J is spearheading efforts to tackle mental health issues.

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