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Bringing mental health of mothers into the spotlight in Africa

In most societies, mothers are the primary providers of care to young children. This is a demanding task and the mental health of a mother is not only essential to her well-being, but that of her child’s physical health, nutrition and psychological well-being. However, most child development programmes do not adequately address maternal mental health.

Recent research has shown that about 20% of mothers in developing countries experience some form of mental health problems during or after childbirth. The United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres has recently acknowledged that the issue of mental health remains a largely neglected issue and announced the UN’s commitment to “working with partners to promote full mental health and well-being for all”.

Moreover, professionals in the field are pointing out that the mental health of mothers is critical to the success of the UN Sustainable Development Goals on health, nutrition and gender equality (SDG 3, 2 and 5).

In South Africa, the rate of pregnant and postnatal mothers suffering from common mental disorders (depression and/or anxiety) can reach up to one in three. Many of them are poor, come from disadvantaged communities and face many obstacles in accessing services and care.

Across Africa, the majority of women experiencing challenges to their mental health during the perinatal period (pregnancy and up to one year after the birth) are also exposed to gender-based violence, economic and gender inequalities, physical illnesses (including HIV), complications of childbirth and the stresses of childcare. Suicide has been identified as one of the leading causes of maternal death worldwide.

Unfortunately, health care systems in most African countries are not equipped to deal with the complex health and social challenges faced by most mothers. With competing physical health priorities and constrained resources, mental health care remains seriously neglected.

To challenge the status-quo and to improve the mental health of mothers in Africa, a group of individuals and organisations are working together in the newly established African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (AAMMH).

AAMMH believes that a multi-sectoral approach is needed to tackle the causes of poor maternal mental health in Africa. The alliance calls for the integration of existing evidence-based interventions for the detection, prevention and treatment of maternal mental health problems into reproductive and child health programmes, supported by mental health services with specialist expertise.

This call for action is very close to the PMHP’s mission to develop and advocate for accessible maternal mental health care that can be delivered effectively in low-resource settings. We have thus become involved with the Global Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (GAMMH) over the past year since its formation and are now a proud founding partner of its first regional off-shoot, the AAMMH.

Together with colleagues in Malawi, we have been preparing for the upcoming launch on the 19 June in Lilongwe, Malawi. Prior to the launch, we will conduct a training workshop with health care providers and managers in maternal, mental and child health. On the launch day itself, we will be delivering a keynote address sharing the experience of the PMHP and will also be conducting a workshop towards establishing strategies for working partnerships across sectors for maternal mental health.

We hope our experience and work in South Africa, and in other low and middle-income countries, will contribute to the development and growth of this pan-African advocacy initiative. At the same time, we look forward to collaborating and learning from advocates, practitioners, trainers and researchers across Africa to strengthen the work we do in South Africa.


The African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (AAMMH) is part of the Global Alliance of Maternal Mental Health and works in close collaboration with the Marcé Society African Regional Group.

AAMMH will be officially launched in Lilongwe, Malawi on 19 June 2018. You can follow the event by using the hashtag #AAMMH #GAMMH

Read more about aims and objectives of the AAMMH here.


Poverty and mental disorders: breaking the cycle in low- and middle-income countries

Mental ill-health and poverty are closely linked and interact in complex negative cycles

“What interventions are needed to break the cycle of poverty and mental ill health?”

Growing international evidence shows that mental ill health and poverty interact in a negative cycle in low-income and middle-income countries. However, little is known about the interventions that are needed to break this cycle.

The vicious cycle of poverty and mental ill-health Social Selection or Social Drift theory: People with mental illnesses are at increased risk of drifting into or remaining in poverty through increased health expenditure, reduced productivity, stigma, loss of employment and associated earnings.

A UN General Assembly Declaration (A/RES/65/L.27 2010) on global health and foreign policy welcomed the WHO report, and recognized that mental health problems have “huge social and economic costs.” There is growing international evidence that mental ill health and poverty interact in a negative cycle in low-income and middle-income countries.

This cycle increases the risk of mental illness among people who live in poverty, and increases the likelihood that those living with mental illness will drift into or remain in poverty.

Mental health interventions can be associated with improved economic outcomes.

 Mental Health interventions can have positive effects on economic status – some poverty alleviation interventions, such as conditional cash transfers and asset promotion programmes, can have mental health benefits.

Read more in this Policy Brief or the full text in The Lancet

Related Publications: Integration of mental health into primary care in low- and middle-income countries (PRIME)

Mental health, Poverty & Development (WHO)

Source: PRIME policy brief #1 

Inspiring African innovations: Perinatal Mental Health Project, South Africa [#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series]

This blog is part of our series celebrating World Health Day 2017. This year’s theme is Depression: Let’s Talk and we’re showcasing inspiring innovations addressing depression across Africa.

Source: [#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series] Inspiring African innovations: Perinatal Mental Health Project, South Africa | Mental Health Innovation Network

South African partnership hopes to prove text messages can save the lives of mothers and children

According to UNICEF, in South Africa the child mortality rate has fallen from 61 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 45 in 2012. But that is still higher than targets set for the country in the United Nation Millennium Development Goals. And some 1,500 women died from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes in 2013, according to the World Health Organization. This figure has changed little from where it stood two decades ago.

MAMA is an example of a public-private partnership (PPP), a collaboration of governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private companies and other entities that get together to fund projects and implement programs that address some of the world’s most challenging health and development issues.

MAMA, a public-private partnership led by Johnson & Johnson and USAID, aims to inform pregnant women and new mothers via text messages.

Launched three years ago, MAMA is a joint effort led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johnson & Johnson, with active projects in South Africa and Bangladesh, and planned rollouts in India and Nigeria. It is also one of many so-called mHealth programs begun in recent years, seeking to leverage the rapid growth of mobile phones to address vast public health needs in developing countries.

Through MAMA South Africa, registered pregnant women and new mothers receive text messages twice a week that guide them through their pregnancy and the first year of their children’s lives. The MAMA text message program reaches 12,000 women in six clinics in Johannesburg, the nation’s largest city. It also has an online component that reaches hundreds of thousands of women nationally through informational, interactive sites and weekly quizzes.

Read the full article on the Global Post

or go directly to the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action site (MAMA)

Urgent action needed to address mental health

Declaration on mental health in Africa

Urgent action is needed to address mental health issues globally. In Africa, where mental health disorders account for a huge burden of disease and disability, and where in general less than 1% of the already small health budgets are spent on these disorders, the need for action is acute and urgent. Members of the World Health Organization, including African countries, have adopted a Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.

Read more @GlobalHealthAct

 global #mentalhealth

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