Advancing Mental Health Care in Africa: Insights from the 15th Annual Focus on Mental Health Conference

by Paul Ngangula, Master’s of Science in Global Health Student, Duke University

November 2023, Tanzania – The Focus on Mental Health Conference, now in its 15th year, recently convened in Moshi, Tanzania. As one of the few regional conferences focused specifically on mental health, the event has become a pivotal yearly opportunity for mental health discourse in the Kilimanjaro region, which is the primary site of the IDEAS for Hope research project. 

This year’s conference marked another milestone in the journey toward improving mental health understanding and treatment in East Africa by bringing together global minds and local expertise. As local leaders in mental health capacity building, our team from Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) and the IDEAS for Hope lab were honored to participate and contribute to this event.

The Focus on Mental Health Conference was founded by Dr. Rolf Schwarz, a Dutch psychiatrist, and has since blossomed into an important event in Tanzania. The conference interweaves threads of local involvement with international cooperation.

Research Team Members

Our lab’s presentation centered around the IDEAS for Hope study, which has developed a telehealth counseling intervention for suicidal prevention among people living with HIV in the Kilimanjaro region. This pioneering study addresses suicidal ideation in the context of HIV care, and it is the first known study to use telehealth to intervene for suicidality among people living with HIV in Africa, reflecting our commitment to innovative and contextually relevant research. The IDEAS for Hope team recently completed a pilot randomized clinical trial of the IDEAS for Hope intervention, with findings forthcoming, and will be seeking to expand the project to many more sites in the Kilimanjaro region in the months ahead.

Dr. Kim Madundo

Dr. Kim Madundo, psychiatrist at KCMC and a key leader in the IDEAS for Hope laboratory, presented on behalf of the team. Dr. Madundo provided updates on the progress of the project and the recently completed clinical trial, as well as insights about the landscape of mental health treatment in Tanzania. These insights are especially relevant for future capacity building efforts aimed at increasing awareness of mental health challenges, reducing stigma associated with accessing care, and improving access to mental health treatment.

At the conclusion of the conference, we were particularly proud to receive the Daktari Schwarz Award, honoring the best scientific presentation at the conference. Congratulations to Dr. Madundo and the team!

Daktari Schwarz Award

Academic publications describing the IDEAS for Hope study in greater detail can be found at the links below: 

Knettel, B.A., Knippler, E.T., Amiri, I., Joel, L., Madundo, K., Msoka, E.F., Boshe, J., Tarimo, C.S., Katiti, V., Rwakilomba, J., Turner, E.L., Minja, L., Staton, C., Vissoci, J.R.N., Mmbaga, B.T., Relf, M.V., & Goldston, D.B. (2023). Protocol for a pilot randomized controlled trial of a telehealth-delivered counseling intervention to reduce suicidality and improve HIV care engagement in Tanzania. PLOS One, 18(7), e0289119.

Minja, L., Knettel, B.A., Pan, W., Madundo, K., Amiri, I., Joel, L., Knippler, E., Relf, M.V., Vissoci, J.R.N., Staton, C., Msoka, E., Tarimo, C., Katiti, V., Mmbaga, B.T., & Goldston, D.B. (2023). Validation of a culturally sensitive instrument to assess suicide risk, reasons for living, and self-efficacy to avoid suicide with a sample of Tanzanian adults living with HIV. Global Mental Health, 10(67), 1-8.

Knettel, B.A., Amiri, I., Minja, L., Martinez, A.J., Knippler, E.T., Madundo, K., Staton, C., Vissoci, J.R.N., Mwobobia, J., Mmbaga, B.T., Kaaya, S., Relf, M.V., & Goldston, D.B. (2023). Task-shifting ‘gold standard’ clinical assessment and safety planning for suicide risk among people living with HIV: A feasibility and fidelity evaluation in Tanzania. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS), 93(5), 374-378.

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