GBARNGA, Bong – The Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Pharmacy Division and Supply Chain Management Unit, has successfully completed the training of 22 pharmacists from nine counties in mental health and anti-stigma protocols.
Convened from Nov. 27-29 in Gbarnga, the training was funded by the Carter Center’s Mental Health program.
The Carter Center’s Mental Health program has for many years emphasized the important role pharmacists play in healthcare delivery, especially in the areas of mental health and associated stigmas.
But many health workers in Liberia lack important knowledge related to mental health and mental illness, and therefore may, in the course of their service, mistakenly stigmatize or discriminate against persons with mental, neurological, developmental or substance-abuse complications.
A 2012 survey of 45 pharmacists in Liberia revealed some evidence of stigma and discrimination by pharmacists due to a lack of knowledge and myths surrounding mental, neurological, and substance use conditions.
In response to the survey results, the Carter Center Mental Health Program conducted a two-day in-service training in 2013 for pharmacists, drawing their attention to unconscious biases against, and appropriate care for, persons with mental, neurological, and substance-use challenges.
Another important finding of the 2012 survey was that pharmacists are highly trusted and respected in their communities. Therefore, involving them in the broader effort to care for and combat mental health stigma will go a long way.
It is estimated by the National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan that by 2021, with current levels of training, all practicing pharmacists will be trained in mental health to ensure better management and distribution of psychotropic medications, and in the provision of collaborative care.
A Carter Center partnership with the Ministry of Health has, therefore, been launched to train pharmacists and other healthcare practitioners across the country, the auspices of which the recent three-days training in Gbarnga was held. Participants came from Bong, Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Lofa and Nimba, as well as from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Liberia.
Participating pharmacists received new knowledge in how to provide collaborative care for the mentally challenged in their communities, as well as methods in identifying mental health conditions. Participants were also informed of the strategic objectives of the 2016-2021 National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan.
At the close of the three-days training, the organizers receive several recommendations from participants, including the need for continuous in-service training in mental health and anti-stigma; and the need to integrate mental health and anti-stigma training into the curriculum of the School of Pharmacy.
Speaking at the end of the training, the deputy head of programs at the Carter Center, Wilfred Gwaikolo, reiterated the Center’s commitment to supporting the government’s programs, as well as those of other partners, geared towards improving mental health care delivery in Liberia.
The Carter Center and MAP International, a global Christian health and relief organization, already have a standing arrangement to supply psychotropic medications to Liberia. But Gwaikolo revealed that the intervention is not enough to address the need of the country and that the government must also step up its efforts to ensure greater access to needed drugs.
The director for Mental Health at the Ministry of Health, Angie Tarr-Nyakoon, praised the Carter Center Mental Health program for its countless supports towards the mental health situation in the country and reiterated the government’s commitment to increasing its own support.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah