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Education, Research Program Boosts Struggling Mental Health Sector

A psychiatry education and research program in Zimbabwe has boosted the number of psychiatrists in the country, ensuring improved mental health services, according to the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London.

The five-year program called Improving Mental Health Education and Research in Zimbabwe (IMHERZ), in collaboration with University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences and Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College among other institutions, is funded by the United States government’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative.

It has over the four years increased the number psychiatrists from 1 to 6, with 4 more people currently in post-graduate training.

IMHERZ was developed in 2010 as a sustainable and relevant innovation mental health education curriculum with strong emphasis on community-based intervention research coupled with effective long-term initiatives to improve retention of graduates and the faculty.

Stakeholders say the program has not only shown improvement in the number of psychiatrists working in the country but the implementation of two public-sector child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Harare, forensic and community outreach and HIV mental health services.

Dr. Melanie Abas of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College said due to Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties over past decade and the issue of “brain drain,” which saw hundreds of health professionals seeking greener pastures in other countries, the health sector particularly the mental health sector was depleted.

"It was a great opportunity for Zimbabwe to get connected with the PEPFAR and to get funds to build expertise for mental health in the country,” said Abas.

Abas said at the inception of the program Zimbabwe had one psychiatrist at the University of Zimbabwe, who now has the assistance of a proper team committed to the growth of mental health services in the country.


Development of child and adolescent clinics has been the particular highlight of the 5-year program giving families in Zimbabwe a place to seek appropriate care which otherwise had been unavailable.

“Child’s mental health is very under recognized as an area of need, as a lot of children’s mental health needs are hidden because children don’t tend to complain, they sit quietly” said Abas.

She added families now realize this is an area where they are able to access proper support and see their children thrive.

The US-backed Medical Education Partnership Initiative which was created to train doctors in Zimbabwe under its programs, expects by 2015 to have enhanced the quality of medical education, increase resources, continue retention of medical workers, target communities with regionally relevant research and create sustainability in the sector.

Other stakeholders currently collaborating with the IMHERZ program include the University College London, University of Cape Town, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Harvard Medical School. Program funding is expected to end September 2015.

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