Researchers from Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and the USA have joined hands to develop evidence-based research on mental health in children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking at the launch of the first annual conference on child behavioral health at Sheraton Kampala hotel recently, Education Minister Janet Museveni said she was pleased that Uganda would lead the challenge.
She said her ministry would work closely with the researchers to inform policies for children and youth, since mental health was extremely an important issue for the country’s development.
“I have observed many children with such circumstances but I believe all is not lost,” Museveni said. “We succeeded in the HIV infection rate and we shall also see encouraging results once we put up necessary policies to help children with mental issues.”
Joyce Wanican, executive director, AfriChild Centre based at Makerere University, said when children are disturbed mentally, they perform poorly in class, hence the need for the research.
“Mental health issues cut across … when I was growing up, it was adults that were most affected but now, more of young children are running mad. This is unacceptable and we must innovate solutions,” Wanican said.
The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 20 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering with a serious mental health issue.
Dr Fred Ssewamala, the director of the US-based Colombia University International Centre for Child Health, said they would establish a centre in Masaka, to address issues of psycho-social functioning among young people enrolled in school.
A principal investigator in the five-year study, Dr Ssewamala said the centre would help school-age youth.
“We shall work with schools … with the same level of performance and attracting children from similar backgrounds. Those that are out of school shall be recruited through clinics,” Ssewamala said. “If you have a young population with a mental health issue that is not addressed, the whole nation is at a loss.”
The study targets children between seven and 10 years in primary schools in Masaka, Rakai, Lwengo, Kalungu and Bukomansimbi. Researchers on the project are drawn from institutions such as Makerere University, New York University, Columbia University, Oxford University, University of Nairobi, University of Ghana, University of Cape Town, University College London, and University of KwaZulu-Natal.