Grand Challenges Canada funds 15 new projects to improve mental health diagnosis and care

Published on October 11, 2012 at 7:02 AM · No Comments

Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, today announced a landmark $19.4 million in support of 15 innovative, pioneering projects designed to improve mental health diagnosis and care in developing countries, many of them nations ravaged by conflict and disaster as well as poverty. The projects were selected through competitive scientific peer review from among 97 ideas submitted in response to a Grand Challenge to propose innovations that increase access, improve treatment, and address stigma for people with mental health disorders in developing countries.

Globally close to 450 million people have mental health disorders; more than 75% of that number live in developing countries. And, according to the World Health Organization, 85% of developing world patients with serious mental disorders receive no treatment at all.

"Mental health disorders are a leading cause of suffering and disability everywhere, but the problem is especially acute in the developing world," said Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. "There is very little funding for mental health innovations in low- and middle-income countries, where mental illness is the most neglected of many neglected diseases. It's a terrible denial of human potential."

"Canada has a long and proud tradition of fostering innovation to improve the lives of people living in some of the most desperate situations, " said the Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance for Canada. "Global Mental Health is a significant challenge which, left unaddressed, could undermine the health, social and economic futures of developing countries."

15 projects in 14 low and middle income countries will test bold new ideas for addressing mental health issues, where patients are often severely stigmatized - even chained or locked up in the absence of understanding or care.

*Afghanistan has suffered through 30 years of conflict in the recent past. Over one million people have been killed; one million are disabled and millions of others are refugees. Most Afghan families have lost one or more family members during the conflict. As a result, it is estimated that about 50% of Afghanis over 15 years of age are suffering from mental health problems - depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Outside of Kabul, there is no mental health care system. The Grand Challenges Canada grant will help support improved awareness of mental health problems in rural areas through simple technologies such as text messages and information technology, including web-based tools, and teleconferencing to enable community health practitioners to reach patients in need, especially young people.

*Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was traumatized by the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 316,000 people, injured 300,000 and left 1.6 million homeless. Almost every person in this small country was affected. Later that same year, there was more misery when a cholera outbreak struck. As a result, it is estimated there is a high prevalence of mental health conditions in Haiti, yet mental health services are limited and of poor quality. With the support of Grand Challenges Canada, local health care organization Zanmi Lasante will increase treatment and care to Haitians through developing and testing culturally appropriate initiatives for community health workers to implement.

*Ethiopia. Der biaber anbessa yaser is an Amharic saying meaning, "Together a spider web will tie a lion." Dr. Clare Pain of Toronto and Dr. Dawit Wondimagegn of Ethiopia are leading the Biaber project which is planning to help tame the lion of mental illness in Ethiopia. A major cause of mental health disorders is domestic violence, which occurs in 72% of rural Ethiopian families, according to a recent study. The violence leads to depression, anxiety and suicide; furthermore, those who suffer are often severely stigmatized. This project will test improved screening and make treatments available to many who previously could not access care.

*Nigeria. As many as 25% of patients seen in local health centers suffer significant depression symptoms yet few are diagnosed and only about one in six of those diagnosed get treatment of any kind - lower than the African average of 30%. Depression has a major impact on productivity and mortality and compounds other health problems. Researchers will test low-cost innovations to improve recognition and diagnosis of the problem, improve patient adherence to treatment, and make interventions for depression more available and accessible with decentralized mental health services.

"Canada is to be congratulated for its bold new initiative to improve global mental health," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. "This area of health often remains ignored in health planning and resource allocation; for example, most low-income countries currently spend less than 25 US cents per person on mental health. Grand Challenges Canada is now making one of the largest ever investments in mental health innovations in the developing world, so WHO is very pleased indeed to support the initiative and help to ensure the most effective utilization of these vital investments."

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