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Mental-health work in Uganda set to expand

04 October 2019

Jamie’s Fund now reaching 26 hospitals


Maria (left), who received support, with Linda Shuttleworth, of the Jamie’s Fund team

Maria (left), who received support, with Linda Shuttleworth, of the Jamie’s Fund team

AMID promises that 1000 more people will be recruited to work in community mental-health care in the UK, one charity is setting its sights on reaching remote parts of Uganda, where some of those in distress are locked up or shackled.

Since establishing the Ahumuza Centre for mental health in Kisiizi, in the south-west of Uganda (News, 27 October 2017), Jamie’s Fund, set up in 2012, has started working with 26 church-run hospitals, including delivering training to doctors, nurses, and community health workers.

“It just keeps growing, partly because we focus on the things that will really make a difference, and often they are low-cost things,” Avril Devaney, the charity’s founder, a former director of nursing at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said on Tuesday. “We get alongside people — all the training is delivered to Ugandans who then go and provide the cascade training. They own that traction.”

Training is done using the World Health Organisation’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme, costing as little as £60 per person, and, to date, it has been cascaded to 223 people. Members of the police — often the ones to support people who are mentally distressed — have also started to attend.

JAMIE’S FUNDJoseph leads a mental health outreach clinic at Kinyamaseke Health Centre, Kampala

Some communities had resorted to shackling or confining people who had untreated mental illness, Mrs Devaney said. Attitudes to mental health in Uganda were “mixed. There is still a lot of stigma and misconceptions and beliefs about people being possessed, but then there is a real enlightened approach as well, and communities will embrace and look after their own — there is compassion for each other.” Churches in Uganda had been “incredibly supportive”.

The charity takes its name from Avril’s son, Jamie Devaney, who died, aged four, in Nairobi, in 2011, after contracting an infection. “To know that people are still being blessed because of his life is just incredible,” Mrs Devaney said.

The congregation at the family’s church — St Mary’s, Halkyn — had been “steadfast supporters”.

In the UK, health spending approaches £3000 per year per person; in Uganda, the figure is about £6. While mental health receives about ten per cent of the health budget in the UK, in Uganda, which has few psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and social workers, the figure is one per cent.

World Mental Health Day — an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health — is on 10 October.

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