THE mental health expo scheduled to take place at the weekend in Harare is a critical platform that should be utilised to put the necessary spotlight on Zimbabwe’s woefully inadequate investment in mental health services.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report titled ‘‘The State of the World’s Children 2021,’’ only 2 per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending, which accounts for about less than US$1 per person. The inadequate budget is despite the fact that there is an increasing demand for mental health services, particularly by an increasing number of adolescents aged 10–19 who live with a diagnosed mental disorder.
Another related report, published by Kushinga a few years ago titled “Mental health in Zimbabwe: Findings from a comprehensive system analysis in Zimbabwe,” decried the fact that mental health services have no fixed line budget and were poorly funded by the Zimbabwe government.
Not surprisingly, the authorities have not availed adequate funding to finance much-needed research on mental health in response to excessive drug abuse in the country which has given rise to high cases of mental health problems in the country.
We agree with CIMAS public health and awareness officer Godknows Muperekedzwa’s observation that Zimbabwe is lagging behind in terms of “organic authentic research” on mental health and that information used in the Health ministry psychiatric department is very outdated.
The foregoing is despite the fact that Zimbabwe has very progressive interventions such as the Mental Health Act, Mental Health Policy and Mental Health Strategy which surpass those of many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
But what is the value of coming up with progressive strategy and policy documents which are allowed to gather dust? The lack of implementation or execution of strategy and policies leads to frustration as the hoped for strategic benefits are not realised largely because the government is not putting their money where their mouth is. The Mental Health Act, Mental Health Policy and Mental Health Strategy are failing to be implemented due to weak and inconsistent commitment from the authorities as well lack of support from the fiscus.
The government must take seriously the policy and strategy documents they come up with because if they don’t, who will? For starters, they must urgently bring to life the special initiative for mental health and the Zimbabwe mental health investment case launched by Vice President and minister of Health and Child Care Constantino Chiwenga last year.
The initiative seeks to achieve universal health coverage for mental health, advance mental health policies, advocacy and human rights, and scale-up quality mental health interventions and services.
According to the vice president, the mental health investment case will facilitate the assessment of the current national mental health system so as to identify mechanisms for scaling-up mental health promotion, prevention, and care.