NGO urges FG to use UHC for advancement of mental health care

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By Abujah Racheal

Abuja – The Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative (MHEI), an NGO, has advised the Federal Government to use Universal Health Coverage (UHC), as a platform
to advance mental health services in the country.

Founder of the NGO, Mr Zion Ameh, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Thursday in Abuja.

He was speaking on the commemoration of International Day of UHC,

NAN reports that on Dec. 12, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously endorsed a resolution urging countries to accelerate progress toward UHC.

The idea was that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality, affordable health care as an essential priority for international development.

NAN reports that the theme of the 2019 UHC Day is ‘Keep the Promise’

Ameh said that there was an overall shortage of health services in the country and the provision of mental health services was one of the most scarce areas.

“There should be a comprehensive review of how mental health service is provided in the country with the urgent passage of the mental health bill.

“It is a bill for an Act to provide for the establishment and regulation of mental health and substance abuse services.

“It also encompasses protection of persons with mental health needs and the establishment of National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse services.

“It will contribute to effective management of mental health in Nigeria and other related matters,” he said, recalling that the bill was sponsored by Sen. Ibrahim Oloriegbe.

According to him, a quick transition from policy to implementation is crucial.

He said that policy makers and other relevant agencies have to use all possible mechanisms to accelerate the passage of the bill becase it would strengthen mental health institutes and train workforce through innovations.

Ameh stressed that the problem of insufficient mental health workforce had to be tackled by strengthening existing mental health institutions and increasing trained workforce with attention to equitable distribution.

He said that the gaps could be filled by innovative mechanisms and the use of other ongoing programmes and community-based engagement in the health sector.

Ameh said that another approach could be the use of the country ‘s strength in information and communication technology.

“Our telemedicine potential can help to increase access to mental health services in areas with limited availability of mental health workforce.

“This is an opportunity to make provision of disability and mental health services integrated at all steps.

“As urban health services are being scaled up, Primary Health Centres are being established.

“This becomes highly relevant as there is a high prevalence of mental health conditions in urban settings,” he said.

He advised the government to engage communities in delivery of health services, stating that community-based interventions should become acceptable because they were the core approaches to mental health services.

“The linkage between all community-based initiatives of different government programmes needs to be harmonised.

“Achieving good mental health in the community requires a lot of preventive and promotive health services.

“Opportunities provided in the indigenous system of medicines to address mental illnesses and the possible collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Health and the state health ministries must be explored, harmonised, and the experience documented.

“That way, the promotion of other services could be useful,” he advised.

According to him, policy prescriptions are of limited use unless translated into actionable and measurable steps.

Ameh said that there was need to develope a detailed mental health implementation plan as proposed in the bill.

“There is need for integration with overall mechanisms for non-communicable diseases programme which could be expanded rapidly to all districts of the country, with an approved roadmap within a time frame.”

On funding, he called on the government to increase financial allocation and develop mechanisms to prevent people from becoming poor while accessing mental health services.

“Globally, devoting one per cent of total health budget by government for mental health services is an acceptable norm and Nigeria falls below this norm.

“This fact is a sufficient justification for rapid expansion of mental health services and increase in the government funding.

“Both actions will help reduce ‘out of pocket expenditure’ by people and can prevent people from falling into poverty because of health related expenditures,” he advised.

NAN recalls that in 2014, the UN started to observe Dec. 12 as UHC Day to commemorate the date on which the General Assembly officially recognised the importance of UHC.

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