BY Joseph Ng’ang’a (KNA)
Medical Services Principal Secretary (PS) Harry Kimtai has called upon Kenyans to play a leading role in taking responsibility for their own mental well-being and to mobilize those with disorders to come forward for assistance.
“Let us all be that person whom our family, friends, neighbors, or workmates turn to when they need mental health support,” said Kimutai.
The PS further called for renewed efforts in the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Quality Rights initiative as part of reorienting our mental health services by adopting a human-rights-based approach.
Kimutai said that having this in place will help the country move closer to the realization of the constitutional right to the highest attainable standards of health.
“The Constitution of Kenya in the Bill of Rights stipulates the rights to the highest attainable standards of healthcare. This includes mental health, which is a key component of health as defined by WHO (the state of physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not mere absence of infirmity),” explained Kimutai.
Speaking at the Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital Tuesday, during this year’s World Mental Health Day, Kimutai said the Quality Rights mental initiative will bring a paradigm shift to embrace human rights and fundamental freedoms as a precondition of care and a first step towards addressing social justice and reducing stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health issues.
The PS highlighted that the Quality Rights toolkit will provide knowledge on human rights and drive attitudes to change based on the provision of articles of the United Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and further facilitate the enforcement of the Mental Health (Amendments) Act.
“I urge stakeholders to partner with the Ministry of Health and County Governments to accelerate the implementation of the Mental Health (Amendments) Act 2022, which has provisions on the Rights of Persons with Mental Illness,” said the PS.
Kimutai explained that in Kenya, mental illnesses are a significant cause of morbidity, with an estimated 25% of outpatients and up to 40% of in-patients suffering from mental conditions.
He said that this situation is compounded by the pervasive culture of denial, silence, and stigma that surrounds mental health with many people erroneously ascribing mental illness to curses, evil spirits, or witchcraft.
“Persons with mental illnesses are often ostracized, stereotyped, feared, or shunned by society. These negative attitudes have prevented many from seeking timely care, and ultimately hindered them from realizing their dreams and achieving their full potential,” said the PS.
He added that failure to address mental health-related issues portends significant health and socio-economic implications in terms of social capital, healthcare needs, and lost productivity and ultimately curtails the achievement of our goals as a country.
“In today’s fast-paced world, highly competitive and dynamic living environment, there are increasing stressful and traumatic situations and social determinants adversely affecting people’s mental wellbeing,” explained the PS.
He explained that there is increasing evidence that the promotion of mental well-being and prevention of mental illness is possible by using both general and targeted evidence-based interventions that can improve outcomes for individuals across the spectrum of mental conditions and life courses.
“This is further supported by overwhelming evidence of cost-benefit analysis which indicates that for every shilling spent on mental health, five are gained in overall health and economic benefits,” said Kimutai.
The PS said that The Ministry of Health is implementing Universal Health Coverage as a key pillar of the Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda, where mental health will be integral for the attainment of this agenda.
He added that the primary healthcare model strategy will require the integration of mental health services at all levels of the health system, with a particular focus on primary healthcare, community health services, school health programs, and the promotion of self-care.
This will go a long way in improving community screening, early identification and referral, psychosocial rehabilitation, reintegration, and social inclusion.