By various accounts, majority of children in sub-Saharan Africa face a life of poverty, insecurity and poor mental health. These factors hinder their ability to develop into healthy adults, live an improved quality of life and fulfil their life aspirations.
Until recently, virtually all social and health interventions for children had focused on the major causes of mortality to the neglect of mental health issues and social problems that have serious consequences for children’s growth and development and the society at large.
Despite the identified burden of mental health problems in children, there are very few services for child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) care in sub-Saharan Africa and a lack of trained professionals. There was also no regular or coordinated training of health professionals for child and adolescent mental health care until recently.
What this means is that the majority of African children with disabling mental disorders go untreated and children within the community do not have access to mental health promoting services or environments. There is no doubt that with the present problems of insecurity and violence in several African countries including Nigeria, the mental health burden will be rising.
To bridge this huge gap in mental health care for children and adolescents, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation provided funding to the University of Ibadan to establish a Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. This Centre is to provide training, research and services to respond to the urgent mental health care need by training highly skilled CAMH personnel.
Programmes emanating from the Centre are expected to fill the current void where there is no regular or coordinated training for evidence-based child and adolescent mental health care in sub-Saharan Africa. The Centre was to identify and train leaders for CAMH for the sub- Saharan African region.
In the last 18 months, the Centre has had the privilege to train mental health professionals from different regions of Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On Monday June 16, 2014, the Centre will celebrate 13 successful students who completed this extremely rigorous 18-month Master of Science programme in Child and Adolescent Mental Health (MSc. CAMH). A first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. This landmark ceremony will hold in the Paul Hendrickse Lecture Theatre, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan.
The ceremony will be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole while the Chief Medical Director of the University College Hospital Ibadan, Professor Temitope Alonge, will be the special guest of honour. Other principal officers of the University of Ibadan and the University College Hospital, Ibadan will be in attendance.
The keynote address entitled ‘Promoting Emotional Health in African Children’ will be delivered by Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, Director, Psychiatry Consultation Service, Children’s Hospital Boston and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
The ground-breaking research work of the 13 graduating students will be presented at this programme, many of which are pioneer research projects in Africa.
For instance, one research project revealed that a school–based behavioural intervention is a feasible and effective treatment for depressed adolescents in Southwest Nigeria while another revealed that group-based problem solving interventions for aggressive primary school children are feasible and effective. Another research project revealed the impact of social skills training for children with intellectual disability.
Good enough, the milestone event will hold on the 2014 Day of the African Child. The Day of the African Child is a yearly event to commemorate the public killing of school children in a protest against apartheid-inspired education in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. The Day also presents an opportunity to focus on the roles of all stakeholders involved in upholding the rights of the African Child, and to renew efforts towards eliminating the existing obstacles to the realization of these rights.
This year, the Day of the African Child has the theme “Right to participate: Let children be seen and heard.” This ceremony will generate increased awareness about the need to promote emotional and mental health of African children.
The target groups are government officials, policy makers, members of the press, health professionals, school teachers and counsellors, children, adolescent and the general public.
Over and above all these, it is the belief of the renowned Professor of Psychiatry and Principal Investigator, Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Prof. Mrs. Olayinka Omigbodun that “our collective efforts will contribute significantly towards promoting the emotional well-being of our children, and help to provide a safe, secure, healthy and mentally enabling environment for the development of our children who are the leaders of tomorrow.”
•Oladejo is the Director of Public Communication, University of Ibadan.
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