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Africa – WHO Campaign against Suicide

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By Usman Oladimeji

The African region has the world’s highest rate of deaths by suicide.

Every suicidal death is a major Public Health concern with a profound impact on those around them. The World Health Organization (WHO) anti-suicide campaign is focused on raising awareness, reducing the stigma around suicide, and providing an impetus for action to prevent suicide instances in the African region. As reported by the WHO, compared to the worldwide average of 9 per 100,000, Africa has a higher suicide rate, at about 11 per 100,000 each year.

Research shows that in Africa, for each completed suicide, there are an estimated 20 attempted ones. In this region, hanging and self-poisoning with pesticides, drowning, use of a firearm, jumping from a height or Drug Abuse are the most common ways used in committing suicide. This is attributable partly, to a lack of efforts to address and prevent risk factors, such as Mental Health issues, which currently affect a large number of people, increasing from 53 million in 1990 to 116 million people.

WHO continues to contribute to the region’s public health.

Prior to the just observed 2022 World Mental Health Day on October 10, themed “Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority”, WHO launched a Social Media campaign aimed to promote public awareness of the importance of mental health care and galvanizing governments’ and policymakers’ support for increased emphasis and financing for mental health programs. As well as sensitizing the public on how to aid those with stigmatization that might lead to suicide. This was done in a bid to reach out to 10 million people across the region.

WHO in the African Region is supporting task-sharing and integration of mental health into multi-sectoral programs in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, and Mali. Such as the joint Neglected Tropical Diseases and mental health efforts in Nigeria. To advance continental efforts towards equitable access to mental, neurological, and substance abuse care, member States are urged to prioritize the implementation of the Framework to Implement the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan in the WHO African Region.

Mental health looms in the region due to underinvestment.

According to the WHO, six of the top ten nations with the highest suicide rates globally are African nations. In Africa, underinvestment by governments is the greatest challenge to adequate mental health service provision. On average, governments allocate less than 50 US cents per capita to mental health. Although it is an improvement from 10 US cents in 2017, it is still well below the recommended US$ 2 per capita for low-income countries. Additionally, mental health care is generally not included in national health Insurance schemes.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, avers that “Significant Investment must be made to address Africa’s increasing Epidemic of chronic illnesses and non-infectious diseases such as mental disorders and other factors that might lead to suicide. Ongoing efforts by governments should be intensified and deepened to make mental health care a public health priority in the African region. Up to 11% of the risk factors for suicide are caused by mental health issues”. ” It’s time for major transformation” he added.

Suicide prevention should be prioritized in the public health agenda.

In a statement released by WHO on the 2022 World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), observed on the 10th of September with “Creating hope through action” as the triennial theme from 2021-2023, it stated, “Through our actions, we can signal those who are contemplating suicide that there is hope and that we care about them and want to help them. We can all create hope through action and be the light”. Additionally, it emphasized the importance of setting suicide prevention as a priority in the public health agenda by countries, particularly where access to mental health services and availability of evidence-based interventions are already low.


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