When community health workers found Esther two years ago, she was living in a remote area of central Haiti, plagued by paranoia and voices in her head. Esther was taken to one of Zamni Lasante’s 10 hospitals, where she received social assistance, psychological support, and medication. Today, Esther reports that she is happy and symptom-free.
Fortunately, Esther’s condition was treatable. But the challenge in Haiti—and in the majority of developing countries—is that access to mental health care is extremely limited. In Haiti, there are just five psychiatrists and one neurologist for a population of 10 million.
PIH sister organization Zanmi Lasante (ZL) officially launched a new program today to both expand mental health screening and treatment in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite, and serve as a national model for mental health care throughout Haiti.
“This program will provide hope for patients who haven’t been able to face mental illness because of a bare lack of available resources,” said Father Eddy Eustache, ZL’s director of mental health and psychosocial services. “It provides hope for Haitian doctors, nurses, and community health workers who have been craving appropriate training. And it will provide a future for the Haitian people and government to see the eventual creation of a national mental health plan.”
The ZL program is one 15 initiatives around the world to receive funding as part of a $19.4 million Grand Challenges Canada grant to improve mental health diagnosis and care in developing countries, many of them ravaged by conflict, disaster, and poverty.
Over the next year, community health workers in Haiti will be trained to identify people in the community with potential mental health issues, make referrals for psychological and psychiatric treatment, and then provide community-based follow-up care. A pilot program will also incorporate the use of mobile phones by community health workers to help diagnose patients, improve patient monitoring, and report real-time data.
While the new program will improve care for ZL patients, the goal also will be to provide a decentralized model of mental health care to be expanded nationally in Haiti.
Addressing mental illness in Haiti and around the world is critical: The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, depression will become the number one cause of disability. This burden is greatest in poor countries—where 85 percent of patients like Esther don’t receive the treatment they need.