Dr Dixon Chibanda
African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI)
Dr Dixon Chibanda from the University of Zimbabwe has been awarded £4.2 million to lead the African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI). It will develop a cohort of outstanding mental health researchers in sub-Saharan Africa.
There are only 11 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe and a mounting burden of mental health disorders linked to HIV, poverty and gender-based violence. As a vastly underserved discipline in sub-Saharan Africa, mental health is becoming of increasing concern to governments with only limited intervention programmes available.
Researchers in Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be trained in these countries, through fellowships, to build scientific excellence in the area. They will be trained to understand the burden of mental health within populations, as well as risk factors such as poverty and HIV.
There will be a strong focus on developing community-based intervention strategies with the aim of addressing the treatment gap that exists in sub-Saharan Africa. To address this gap, these countries need world-class mental health researchers to train lay healthcare workers and to design and implement robust intervention measures.
Dr Chibanda, a clinical psychiatrist, has first-hand experience of leading a community-based intervention programme as he established ‘Friendship Benches’ in 2006. The project uses lay health workers trained in low-intensity cognitive behaviour therapy to help individuals cope with the stresses of daily life, as well as common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The project has already produced encouraging results, but if it is to be successfully scaled up then the research base for mental health must be strengthened and integrated within public health.
Dr Chibanda is an established mental health researcher and WHO consultant on mental health. He has contributed to the development of national and international health policies, making him ideally placed to support the integration of this new research initiative into existing public health programmes.