“In Africa, people with mental illness are abandoned and excluded from society"

On April 3, an act was held "Panorama of the socio sanitary attention in Africa. Mental health, a challenge for cooperation" by the socio-sanitary experience and the development projects of the San Juan de Dios brothers which started their work in the 16th century. Two people from to REDES NGOs with a sound experience on health and mental health together with two African missionaries, participated in the event. José María Viadero, technical director of the DNGO Juan Ciudad, introduced the act. He gave the following information: 25% of world illnesses are suffered in Africa while only 2% of the world sanitary expense is allocated there; the World Health Organizatin estimates that Africa is lacking 4 million doctors while 20% of the African doctors work away from the continent, while NGOs and governments spend 4000 million $ in sending doctors there. "On many occasions the NGO´s work is the excuse for governments not to meet their responsibilities and for donors to continue cutting aid". And as a conclusion" we cannot work as islands, we cannot ignore the community, nor their rights, local participation and dialogue between medicines is essential to improve our work".

Adriana Castro, in charge of the DNGO communication, rescues this idea, especially in the work carried out in Africa "we cannot look at it from our perspective, the continent´s diversity is far too great and we have to take into account many factors and contexts which seem difficult to us in the West. In Sub Saharan Africa, illnesses such as diarrhea, smallpox or tuberculosis are the main cause of death. "It is true that progress is being made, but data is alarming. The world crisis, armed conflicts, natural disasters and AIDS, among other things, prevent that steps taken might endure, but it is one common cause: injustice. Access to health cannot be worked separately from other services and basic rights such as: water or education among others, we need a whole approach".

Physical and mental health: both go together

Rosa Izquierdo, Hospitalarian Sister and in charge of the Cooperation of the Fundación Benito Menni explained that we face a vicious circle: poverty, malnutrition, domestic violence, access to basic social services... it is all related to mental health. From her Congregation and Foundation they work with the most basic development concept: to go from less human conditions to more human conditions. Mental health is the equilibrium state between a person and its socio- cultural environment, in order to be able to contribute to the community, make decisions, relate to and manage life: participate in our development and in that of or surroundings. However, in many African contexts, people with mental health illnesses, very often live excluded, "madness is hidden and produces shame, we abandon them, pointing them out and their families. There are no adequate policies or strategies to follow on these occasions.

Telemá: Get on your feet and stand up

Telemá is the name of the Mental Health Centre presented in the documentary "Paths of Dignity" presented by the Foundation and which means: Get on your feet and stand up. The video is focused on the work of the two Mental Health Centres in RD Congo and Mozambique and shows how the solution comes by a change of approach in assistance: Stand up and recover your dignity."We are with those who have nothing and expect everything from us, the mission starts by our insertion with these populations, we have to get inside and touch what people are going through" this is the testimony of Leontine Ngo, from Cameroon, who has worked in two of the Foundation´s projects in RD Congo and Cameroon; and of Beatriz Baasim from Togo´s mental health centre who shared their experiences. Both agree that the assistance to these people is marked by mystic beliefs, since in some places they still believe that the cause of the illness is external, from super natural origins or witchery. This is why the mental patient is a victim who is not responsible and is not protected against these external forces that come to live within him. This is why the projects give priority to formation and awareness to help understand that it is an illness as any other that can be taken care of and cured. On the other hand in Africa "the family structure is big: it is a social institution, if a member is sick, the family structure is disorganized.

When healing, one has to think of the whole group. The projects also have external attention for those who cannot reach the centres, they go to them. Another important issue is the work with the patient´s sons and daughters who pay the consequences. "We find them living in the street, abandoned and disoriented. We take care of them. We also work in prisons, for example in the central prison of Yaounde, Cameroon, each week a group of nurses from the Centre go to take care of the mental patients in the prison in order to cover basic needs: food, cleaning, change of clothes; because the dignity of the person comes first".