Thursday, 6 April 2017

Brexit: Self harm or a shot in the arm?

At the recent Global Health Exchange: Improving Global Learning conference in Manchester, Ben Simms, THET’s CEO, gave a stirring keynote speech on the need to go beyond media headlines and act together to promote both a stronger NHS and a fortified global health environment.

Joining speakers and delegates from across the UK and international health sector, from Public Health England, Royal Colleges and NHS overseas volunteers, the day was a fantastic moment in the health partnership movement reflecting the vital energy the Global Health Exchange is bringing to the global health and development space. This blog reflects on the key points of Ben’s speech.

The Choice

I believe we now face a fundamental choice as a country. Whether we are to be “a kind and generous” country, as Theresa May phrased it in her speech to staff at the Department for International development last week; open to the world, mindful of our mutual dependence. Or whether we are to be an insular country, holding our sovereignty close to our chest, suspiciously eyeing our neighbours, both near and far.

Nowhere is this choice more clearly expressed than in the debate around the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid.

The UK is now one of just six wealthier countries to be meeting this long-standing UN target. In 2015, the UK provided a total of £12.13 billion in overseas aid. This coming Wednesday, the UK will announce that our contribution increased by an additional £1 billion in 2016. And next week, the OECD will publish their global comparison figures, which will show that the UK has seen the largest increase in overseas aid spending the world over.

It is a profound and impressive contribution. It is both kind and generous.

The Chicken

This 0.7% investment is of course, underpinned by a searing logic, which speaks of our national interest. If a chicken sneezed thirty years ago, so the joke goes, it would have been bad news for the chicken and its relatives, but nobody else would have taken much notice. Today, our increased understanding that human, animal and ecosystem health are inextricably linked combined with our ease of travel, means that such a sneeze will be heard in every capital of the world.
Ebola is often cited as the wake-up call which taught us that the health of one country is dependent on the health of another. Arguably, it’s not the first wake-up call. HIV and AIDS was such a call, as the 33 million people who died from AIDS-related illnesses can testify. Hopefully, Ebola will be the last such call:
The world is awake. It is time to put together a new landscape that will deliver universal health coverage to all its citizens. And UK overseas aid has a crucial role to play in this. It is in our national interest.

The Media

However logical this sounds, it cannot be taken for granted. The 0.7% commitment is under unprecedented attack. Just in January, the Mail on Sunday persisted in its campaign for overseas aid to be re-directed to support the NHS. And it’s not just the Mail. It’s The Times and the Express. In fact, it’s many of the papers that campaigned vigorously for Brexit.
For THET, the choice the Daily Mail gives is one that speaks very poignantly to our vision of a world where everyone has access to healthcare. The decision between investing in ODA or the NHS, is not an either or, they can and should go hand in hand.

The Future

We need to fight for an internationally-focused NHS. At the heart of this is the challenge of ensuring that, as we learn to identify the benefits we can derive from an internationally-minded NHS, to too we must think carefully about how these align with the benefit derived from host countries.
All this means asking and answering difficult questions: not just around how we balance the interests of the NHS with those of overseas health services. But how, for example, we transition from aid dependency to grasping the opportunities for commercial activity overseas which could produce valuable income for the NHS.
To travel on this journey involves making a choice. The choice I talked about at the beginning: about what country we want to be a part of.
Theresa May’s speech last week set the standard by which we can now judge our government’s promises, exemplified by our commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid.
We too need to express this choice, individually and organisationally, to grapple with this complexity to produce an outward facing NHS, one that brings benefit both to countries overseas and to its own patients. In Our Mutual Interest.

Ben Simms


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Strengthening Global Mental Health partnerships - #LetsTalk Depression

A new mental health collaborative was inspired to come together after the Health Partnership Symposium, Petty and Randy explain why sharing knowledge and practice across country borders is so crucial in the battle to improve mental health care. 

Seeing mental health and substance misuse patients suffering, neglected by the community, families and other healthcare workers; motivated me to work with mental health. Working as a health Administrator and a Project Coordinator at a Tanzania National Mental Health Hospital, I found I could help these individuals so that they can be provided with an environment that will allow them to recover from their illnesses, reduce relapses and lead a normal life.
Perpetua Mwambingu- Tanzania Link Project Coordinator

In Ghana mental illness is often attributed to spiritual causes and people who suffer from mental illness do not get the help that they need. Stigma and discrimination is high and people who suffer from mental illness lose their dignity, respect and self-worth. My passion for awareness creation and advocacy and my belief that someday Ghana will appreciate the importance of mental health motivates me even during moments of burnout
Randy Agbodo- Project Lead for Ghana - Zambia - NHS Highlands Partnership

The Story Remains the Same

According to the World Health Organization, for every four people, one will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder in their lifetime. The magnitude of mental health burden is not matched by the size and effectiveness of the response it demands. Currently, more than 33% of countries allocate less than 1% of their total health budget to mental health[1].

Sadly, in Tanzania and Ghana where Randy and I are working, the story remains the same, mental health services are underfunded, and most of the donor funded programs go to communicable diseases. There is inadequate human resource and insufficient supply of medications. Stigma and discrimination towards persons with mental disorders is still prominent and effective mental health prevention and promotion programs are woefully inadequate.

 No Health without Mental Health

Depression is ranked first in the list of top ten leading causes of years lived with disability (YLDs)[2]. Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression[3]. At its worst depression can lead to suicide and close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year[4].

This is why it is so vital that World Health Day this year is addressing depression, bringing it to the fore of global health discussions. It gives health managers and policy advisers the opportunity to appreciate that depression affects productivity and therefore prioritizing and investing heavily in mental health would, in the long run, culminate in populations with healthy outcomes, respect for human rights and stronger economies.

The Health Partnership Symposium ‘effect’

In order to make this a reality, we believe that collaboration and the sharing of approaches is key and at the recent Health Partnership Symposium, organized by THET, we found we were not alone in this thinking.

Our passion for working in mental health was further cemented at the event where a certain chemistry brought colleagues from Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Scotland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia together to form the ‘Mental Health group’.

We all wanted to come together to tackle and develop our learning on different mental health issues.  Ultimately we wanted LMIC’s to start collaborating and to share experiences which can strengthen the partnerships we work in. That’s when a luncheon ‘chat’ was called, then a dinner ‘talk’ happened and then we came to form a WhatsApp group, a way for us to easily reach out to each other.

The world is facing many challenges; political unrest, war, economic hardship, unemployment, etc., all are contributing factors to depression. This must be a wake-up call for the global community, the need to re-think, and re-act to this global crises, now is the time to re-set our priorities with regards to mental health and to act together through partnerships and shared learning. After all there is no health without mental health.

Perpetua Mwambingu
Tanzania Link Project Coordinator,

Randy Agbodo
Project Lead for Ghana - Zambia - NHS Highlands Partnership,

Together We Can Overcome - #LetsTalk Depression

The grief and grievances for those suffering from mental health problems are largely overlooked by both health and social sectors.

In every street, in every corner, we find those suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders. They are silent victims of neglect and abuse experiencing human rights violations across the globe. Those we called our friends, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters in the past, today have become our enemies without committing any crime.

Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in Zambia[1], alongside other neuropsychiatric disorders such as those relating to drug and alcohol abuse. Stigma attached to mental illness, the prevalence of HIV, high unemployment and socio-economic difficulties all significantly increase the risk of mortality[2]. At a global level, over 300 million people are estimated to suffer from depression, equivalent to 4.4% of the world’s population[3].

Although mental health constitutes a large number of disease burdens in developing countries, it is largely overlooked and given inadequate attention.

It is in this context that THET is working hard to help those facing mental health challenges, among other global health issues. As part of their work they have provided funding for the Mental Health Literacy and Improved Patients Safety Empowering Communities Project run by the NHS Highlands – Chipata General Hospital Partnership.

Located in the eastern part of Zambia is Chipata Central Hospital. The hospital is the biggest referral Centre in the province and is well known for its specialized treatment of mental health services. Like any other hospital in low income countries, Chipata Central Hospital suffers from huge medical demand with limited financial resources that put mental health in the periphery of priorities.

People can recover from mental illness but traditional beliefs and cultural practices have led to a persistent belief that mental conditions are untreatable, and this in turn has led to the marginalization of the issue in the public domain. The stigma and limited public knowledge diminishes grassroots demands for mental health policy and service developments which are weak and poorly implemented. As a result traditional medicine and spiritual management are the most common forms of treatment. Thus the need for the project is apparent.

The main aim of our partnership is to empower communities and patients to take action for better and safer mental health by creating positive change in:

  • Perception, attitudes and understanding of mental illness,
  • Improving levels of safety and support by health institutions and local communities
  • Providing relevant mental health educational materials delivered appropriately and creatively to communities deprived of contemporary communication channels

We also acquired bicycles to be used by community volunteers and as a social enterprise, to provide greater access to creative Arts, explaining mental health and helping to disseminate more accurate information to communities regarding mental health.

I have met so many people through the partnership and have seen the positive impact that reaching out and empowering communities on mental health literacy can have. It is increasingly clear that supporting such projects in any way possible can help overcome the challenges mental health is facing.

People with mental health problems, deserve your attention. Together we can overcome.

Pearson Moyo
Project Coordinator - Zambia
Mental Health Literacy and Patient Safety: Empowering communities.