Our beloved continent of Africa has a relatively young population with over 45% of the population being made up of infants, children and adolescents. Furthermore, it has been estimated that over 2 billion babies will be born on this continent in the next 35 years such that by 2030 the region will have the greatest number of children under 18 years of age in the world.
The practice of Child And Adolescent Mental Health has witnessed significant growth on the African continent in the last half-decade or so, with an increase in trained professionals, services developed, research activities and regional / country collaborations and meetings. However, the task is still enormous. Only a minute fraction (tip of the iceberg) of children and adolescents have been reached and the most vulnerable in our societies i.e. those living in rural areas, in extreme poverty, living with disabilities, and out of school children have little or no access to mental health programmes and activities. Child mental health remains a stigmatized and isolated area of child and adolescent health, while sexual and reproductive health, infectious diseases, HIV and malnutrition still take the priority of policymakers on the continent. Recently at an adolescent health conference I attended in Ibadan, Nigeria, youths participating in the conference spoke passionately about their health needs. They advocated for sexual and reproductive health information, physical health services but alas made no mention of mental health. Youth mental health was relegated to be the concern of youths struggling with mental health problems and not a concern for ‘other’ youths who had no such problems.
As child mental health professionals working on the continent, how do we give child and adolescent mental health the prominence it deserves? How do we get everybody on board? We need all stakeholders: policymakers, people who work with, live with, teach, and interact with young people daily-in summary, Everyone. The mental health of young people is everybody’s business. How do we also engage the young people themselves using all the means at our disposal and ensure their participation in matters related to their health and well – being? There is an urgent need to forge partnerships, establish links and collaborate with every sector of society so that youth mental health can be given the priority it deserves, while at the same time working to debunk the myths surrounding Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
The global strategy for women, children and adolescent health since 2010 has been focused on the theme ‘survive, thrive and transform’. As more children and adolescents are surviving the major causes of childhood morbidity and mortality on the continent, the time has come to shift the focus to ‘thrive’ and ‘transform’. Without mental health, African youth cannot ‘thrive’ nor ‘transform’ their societies in line with the Sustainable development goals (SDG’s) 2015 – 2030.
As the African Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (AACAMH) continues to strive to ensure that every African child enjoys optimal mental health, it is my hope that the reports and activities highlighted in this 2019 edition of the bulletin will serve as a greater impetus for all of us working on the continent to do more, and reach further so that ‘no child is left behind’.
Become a Member
Join AACAMH today!