Belgian Platform for International Health    ENG | FR

Be-cause health matters 14

Mental health voices from Africa: experiences and lessons learned

Contributors: Baptiste ALLEAUME, Xavier DE BETHUNE, Jaak LE ROY, Willem VAN DE PUT, Florence VANDENDORPE, Peter VENTEVOGEL, Maximilien ZIMMERMANN

Summary of the conference


On 14 and 15 June 2021, the Be-cause Health Mental Health Working Group organised an international online conference entitled "Voices of Mental Health in Africa". This conference focused on the challenges, needs and practices of mental health and psychosocial support in French-speaking Africa. The conference aimed to be a first step on the way to creating a platform for sharing interdisciplinary and intercultural contributions. Speakers representing different disciplines and stakeholders came from Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Chad.

London-Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris relation

This conference was originally planned as an 'intermediate step' in a series of conferences that began in London (2018), continued in Amsterdam (2019), and were going to be continued in Paris (2020). The Corona crisis disrupted this series, and at the same time again underlined the importance of mental health, as was the case in December 2020 at the "High-level meeting on "Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in humanitarian response" that took place in Geneva.

This conference differed from the others: it was not a 'high level' diplomatic conference. We wanted to hear the experiences of people who are experiencing themselves, the psychological effects of very difficult circumstances. And we wanted to hear from the African aid workers who try to provide direct care to the people who really matter in the end: the people who need that care.

The reason for organising this conference was that the transition of these high-level conferences from the UK to the Netherlands to Paris provided an opportunity to do two things: 1) given the entry to the Francophone sphere, draw attention to the situation in Francophone Africa, where not only many migrants and refugees come from but where many more experience the 'syndrome' of war, violence, poverty and disease at home; and 2) to add the perspective from the users and front-line workers to illustrate the concepts and ideals we talked about at the high level meetings with their real-life experiences.

The conference was opened by
Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians

Her Majesty showed great understanding and a genuine interest in the subject, and we were deeply thankful for her contribution in helping to raise the interest of this conference amidst the other more diplomatic and political conferences. Introductions were made by the Dutch Ambassador for Mental Health and Psychosocial Care Paul Bekkers, Florence Baingana on behalf of the WHO and Julian Eaton, Director of Mental Health at CBM Global and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Watch the video of Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians

Opening speech by her Majesty the Queen at the virtual conference

A number of themes were discussed among the international participants, users and providers, to see what we could learn from each other. These discussions are reported in the working group chapters. Many activities and projects are modest in scope and lack the means to keep in contact with each other. That does not make them any less interesting, however, and they give a picture of people's ability to shape their own response to the urgent needs. One very important goal of the conference was to create a platform to stay in touch and keep learning. 

Watch the video of Paul Bekkers