AMPATH efforts to improve access to mental health

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Mental Health Atlas, nearly one in 10 people have a mental health disorder worldwide; however, only one percent of the global health workforce is working in mental health. In western Kenya, it is estimated that 25% of the population suffers from common, treatable mental health disorders; however, little is done about the burden and barriers of seeking mental health care in a developing country. Though no official mental health policy exists, there has been a move toward integrating mental health services into primary care.


Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Edith Kwobah, recently received a prestigious Fogerty-Fellow award to study the prevalence and patterns of common mental health disorders and the barriers people face to seek mental health care. She suggests that stigma, lack of knowledge about mental health, cost, or distance to the clinic are a few reasons mental illness is not being treated in western Kenya. Additionally, health care practitioners and community members alike are mislabeling mental health symptoms as cerebral malaria, stress, witchcraft and evil spirits.


It is Edith’s hope to use the AMPATH perpetual home-based counseling and testing model to roll out mental health screening and care at the community level. “If it can be done in HIV and diabetes, it can be done in mental health,” she said.


The screenings would include common mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Edith also said there is a collective misconception in Kenya that children do not have mental illness. Frequently autism and ADHD go undiagnosed and untreated. Edith’s Fogerty study will be conducted in Turbo and Mosoriot; however, eventually she would like to see screening and care throughout the entire AMPATH catchment.