Mental health in the Middle East & North Africa

Mental health in the Middle East & North Africa

Shamaila Usmani discusses the lack of data and research on mental health in the Middle East and North Africa, and looks at ways forward for regional mental health policy and planning. Mental disorders affect more than 10 percent of people worldwide,1 however the majority of sufferers do not receive much-needed treatment due to underfunding and stigmatisation in the field. Although there have been campaigns like Time to Change and Big White Wall which use creative methods to allow people to talk about their struggles in a safe environment, such campaigns are limited. Campaigns and medical models that are used to assess and treat patients – primarily developed and found in Western countries –are often replicated in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) without substantive, research-validated changes. It is important to stress that mental health problems are a global issue and are currently the fifth leading cause of non-communicable diseases. These problems lead to disability and high costs, estimated to be around 2.5 trillion dollars (2010).2 Recent research has also shown that the nervous and immune systems are linked in a way that was not realised before. In this field of study, known as psychoneuroimmunology, researchers have found that stress and physical illness are directly linked, as stress may cause vulnerability leading to a compromised immune system. This in itself should make mental health a top priority for better health. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is not immune to these problems. Dr Ziad Kronfol, a highly renowned psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, states that mental illness statistics do not vary much from country to country...
The Arab world in global health – a missing piece

The Arab world in global health – a missing piece

Part 1 in a series exploring global health in the Middle East, Mariam Bhacker examines the absence of the Arab world in international global health discourse, and makes a case for why the region warrants increased attention. A geographical blind spot It is not often you hear the phrases ‘global health’ and, ‘Arab’ or ‘Middle East’ in the same sentence. A Google search of the terms brings up institutional websites that are sparsely populated and several years out of date, and (with rare exceptions) the websites of regional Ministries of Health are notoriously uninformative and user unfriendly. As an Arab global health professional, this geographic blind spot is both perplexing and unfounded. Given the attention the region receives in terms of foreign policy, surely it would at least be a prime candidate for global health diplomacy? Or has the constant, bloody upheaval that dominates media coverage of the region become a barrier limiting international perspective on the Middle East? A tale of two outbreaks In 2013, the ever-worsening conflict in Syria led to the national re-emergence of polio, driving a massive campaign to vaccinate children within Syria and neighbouring countries. While this served to redirect international attention to the crisis, warning signs of an unfolding public health tragedy were there months in advance – see Adam Coutts and Annie Sparrow – went largely unheeded. Also last year, concern heightened around the potential spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) during the annual Hajj – the largest mass gathering of people in the world. The anticipated MERS pandemic didn’t materialise, however significant criticism has been leveled at Saudi Arabia’s case reporting...