Liberia Launches 5 Year Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan

MThe Ministry of Health of Liberia is making progress in mental health care in the face of considerable challenges. To address the severe shortage of mental health clinicians and social workers, the Ministry of Health with support from the Carter Center, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Partners in Health (PIH), United Nations Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Health Organization (WHO), undertook training of front-line health workers to care for people with mental illness.  In addition, community health assistants in several urban areas have been trained to recognize symptoms of mental illness, make referrals to appropriate health facilities and provide basic psychosocial support.

This was disclosed by Ms. Angie Tarr Nyakoon, Director of the Mental Health Program at the Ministry of Health, on February 9th 2017 during the launch of the Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan for 2016-2021 at E.S. Grant Psychiatric Hospital in Monrovia.

Dr. Fred Amegashie, Director of Non Communicable Diseases at the Ministry of Health, representing the Deputy Minister of Health/Chief Medical Officer stated that over 13% of people in Liberia require mental health interventions. He noted that as a result of support from a range of partners the country now has two practicing psychiatrists, and over 500 mental health clinicians. He commended partners for their support in the development of the new comprehensive mental health policy and strategic plan which he then officially launched.

Dr. Benjamin Harris, a senior psychiatrist, called on young doctors to take a professional interest in psychiatry in order to increase the clinical capacity of mental health professionals across the country. He commended E. S Grant Hospital for providing residency training for Internal Medicine Residents despite the major limitations faced by the facility.

Others who made special remarks at the launch included Dr. Yatta Sackie Wapoe County Health Officer, Montserrado County; a representative of training Institutions, Sr. Barbara Brilliant from Mother Pattern College of Health Sciences as well as a representative of International NGOs, Dr. Janice Cooper from the Carter Center. The speakers commended the Ministry of Health for launching the Mental health policy and urged all stakeholders to support implementation. A representative from a national NGO, recounted a recent experience when he was treated for Mental Illness.

Dr. Alex Gasasira, the WHO Representative for Liberia, congratulated the Ministry of Health on the successful launch of the Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan. He highlighted the inclusion of targets for mental health in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda. He noted the important role the Mental Health Policy and Plan could play in ensuring progress towards attainment of these targets.  Dr. Gasasira commended the Ministry of Health’s efforts to promote inter-sectoral coordination as well as effective partner/stakeholder coordination in support of mental health services.

The five-year Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan was developed through a consultative process by the Ministry of Health with support from WHO and partners. It is aimed at improving mental health services delivery in Liberia and ensuring equitable access by all.

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