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Kenya benefits from $6.1 million fund for mental health

NAIROBI, KENYA: Based on a successful pilot project in which traditional Kenyan healers and community workers helped identify almost 500 cases of mental illness, Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Canadian government, has announced a major scale up investment to be matched by partners. 

The Kenyan initiative is one of six innovations in Africa, Asia and Haiti earning scale-up investments, their pilot projects having proven effective at addressing mental health problems in low-resource countries. 

The two other Africa-based projects, in Uganda and Zimbabwe, for the first time integrate treatment of depression into HIV patients' care.   

Meanwhile, two Asia-based projects, in Pakistan and Vietnam, will create care for children and youths as well as adults. 

And a project in Haiti is providing cost-effective mental health treatment in a land where badly neglected bipolar and other neuropsychiatric disorders constitute 10 per cent of the health burden. 

Grants of CDN $4.1 million through Grand Challenges Canada will be more than doubled by the contributions of partners in the six projects, creating a total investment of $8.7 million. 

"The Government is proud to support initiatives such as this that will benefit the most vulnerable. By investing in innovation to improve the effectiveness of mental health services in developing countries, Canada is helping to accelerate positive change and find solutions to global development challenges. I strongly believe Canadians can play an important role in making Canada a leader in development innovation," said Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, the Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau. 

Says Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada: "People with mental illness in the developing world are too often simply ignored or hidden in a bleak darkness rather than helped.  It has been a privilege to support these groundbreaking projects since their inception, to see the convincing evidence of their positive impact, and now to help scale up the success of six bold ideas which will improve the health of tens of thousands of people." 

Mental health disorders constitute 14 percent of global disease worldwide.  But almost three quarters of this burden occurs in low- and middle-income countries, where a shortage of trained personnel and other resources leave enormous populations with little or no access to mental illness treatment. 

Through its Global Mental Health portfolio, Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, has invested over $39 million to date to develop the Mental Health Innovation Network and funded 70 projects in 26 countries, including 15 large "transition-to-scale" investments.  To date, the portfolio of innovations has reached over 100,000 people, and over 10,000 people have accessed treatment. Given the early stage of the innovations, the true impact will occur in the coming years as the most promising of these innovations transition to scale. 

"Canada is among the world's leading funders of global mental health innovation," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. "Its leadership is helping to turn the tide in the global mental health challenge, with substantial impact in low and middle income countries." 

The funding announcement coincides with Bell Let's Talk, a Canadian initiative promoting mental health with national awareness and anti-stigma campaigns. 

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