There is currently just one psychiatrist for every two million people on the continent, and one psychologist for every two-and-a-half million. At least 75% of people living with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries have no evidence-based mental health care. “If you were to only use specialists to treat mental disorders in Africa, the queue would stretch halfway across the continent,” says Associate Professor Crick Lund of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health.
Associate Professor Lund and his team at the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, of which he is director, are looking at ways of narrowing this treatment gap. One such project is AFFIRM (Africa Focus for Intervention Research in Mental Health), part of a global drive to find low-cost interventions by using non-specialist health workers to treat mental disorders in Africa. AFFIRM’s work will contribute towards models of how to deliver low-cost mental health interventions, which will ultimately inform ministries of health across Africa. It is also building capacity in the area by funding fellowships for students from Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe to complete an MPhil in Public Mental Health at UCT.
Associate Professor Lund’s research has a direct impact on policy and is, in many ways, the epitome of engaged scholarship. He received the Alan Pifer Award earlier this year – the Vice-Chancellor’s annual prize in recognition of outstanding socially responsive research and one of UCT’s most prized awards. Speaking at the award ceremony, Associate Professor Lund said: “This [award] is particularly important for me, not just personally, but also because it’s an opportunity to draw attention to this neglected area of mental health.
“People who live with mental disorders are among, and continue to be among, the poorest, the most marginalised, the most disenfranchised members of our society, not just in South Africa but across the African continent.”