News from Kigutu, Burundi

Ensuring access to mental health care

We are supporting our partner in Uganda, PCAF, in putting together and training a mental health team in Kigutu, a small village in southwestern Burundi. Burundi is among the poorest countries in the world and has been continuously affected by cycles of armed violence. As such, mental health is one of the most neglected issues and access to care is greatly needed.

The grassroots non-profit organization Village Health Works (VHW) has a well-established health facility in Kigutu which provides primary health care services to the population. The need for provision of mental health and psychosocial support led PCAF and VHW to create a partnership to train a multi-disciplinary team that implements and supervises quality mental health services at the VHW health facility.

In the first year of the project a team consisting of a general physician, a medical director, a nurse, a psychologist, a mental health coordinator and community health workers and counselors, was selected to be trained on-the-job by a Ugandan psychiatrist who visits regularly. Additional training and supervision has been carried out by US professionals (namely a psychiatrist, a social worker and a creative therapist,) through Skype and field visits.

In 2017 community health workers and lay counselors were trained on common mental health problems to support the multi-disciplinary team in the identification, referral, and follow-up of case management. In the last quarter, mental health sensitization sessions on common mental health issues, availability of services, stress reduction and stigma were also offered to 78 patients as part of the health education component offered at the clinic. More than 1,100 people attended the two mass campaigns that were organized to raising awareness on the role of the community in the holistic care of mental health patients.

As soon as the team began identifying cases on the ground the immense and urgent need for mental health care became evident. More and more people who require support, medicine and eventually hospitalization have been screened. In the last three months Community Health Workers (CHWs) visited 829 households and 59 new cases were identified. Sixty-seven family members of mentally ill patients that need care received psychosocial interventions during home visits focused on family therapy and psychoeducation. There are currently six group support psychotherapy sessions for 88 patients offered at the clinic and plans have been made to extend the program to satellite sites. Livelihood support is also being organized to assist the recovery process of mental health patients living in extreme poverty.

Today the multi-disciplinary team is working to develop and integrate a specific monitoring and evaluation component into their general practice. At the same time, they are continuing capacity-building for the general clinic and community-based health workers.

We are very inspired by the amazing work PCAF and VHW are carrying out in Kigutu. Their vision and commitment are contributing to alleviating the suffering of people struggling with mental illness and their families. We look forward to meeting the team in person in the future and visiting patients and families who are supported through this intervention!