Having the heart to help Kenya

08 May 2014

Deakin's Elijah Marangu is using crowdfunding to improve mental health care in Kenya.

Imagine having to lock up or chain your loved one because they have a mental illness and there is nothing else you can do.

This is exactly what happens in Kenya where services or medication for people with mental illnesses are virtually non-existent.

One man with the passion and capacity to make a difference in Kenya is Elijah Marangu, a lecturer in mental health nursing and PhD candidate within Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Mr Marangu has chosen to use the crowd funding site Pozible to raise funds for his “Kenya Healthy Minds” project. He is confident that he can make a real difference to mental health care in Kenya.

“In Kenya there are less than 500 specialists or mental health workers for 43 million people,” Mr Marangu said.

“In comparison, Australia has around 17,600 specialist mental health workers, for a population of 22 million - around half the population of Kenya.

Mr Marangu says that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that major mental health disorders affect “upwards of 11 per cent of the population.”

“In Kenya, this figure could be even higher, with poverty levels, political instability and rapid urbanisation likely to exacerbate mental health issues,” Mr Marangu said.

Given the scale of the problem, Mr Marangu says that the best way forward is to integrate mental health services into primary health care by upskilling health care workers, who work in local clinics. This tactic is supported by WHO recommendations for meeting the mental health care needs for people in low-income countries like Kenya.

With the $7,00O he hopes to raise through Pozible, Mr Marangu will be able to visit Kenya for two months and collect data to assess the current mental health literacy of primary care workers. The funds will also be used to assist in the design and piloting of a mental health program for health workers in Machakos County. Mr Marangu is optimistic that the pilot project will then be able to be delivered across Kenya.

"It is very important that this project is sustainable in the long-run, so we are working closely with the African Mental Health Foundation and Kenya’s public health system to embed this program into the primary health care system,” Mr Marangu said.

Elijah Marangu has been at Deakin for the past five years and Australia for 12. He first became motivated to help Kenya while he was studying for a Master of Public Health and became aware of what can be achieved through population-based public health programs.

"My passion to improve mental health care in Kenya is also driven by first-hand experience with family members who have been unable to access the most basic of services,” Mr Marangu said.

He hopes to continue to use his skills and expertise to advocate for Kenya, where most of his family still live.

"Since beginning this Pozible campaign, I have been amazed at how it has got people in both Australia and Kenya talking about mental health, which is still stigmatised. This is a very good thing," he said.

Elijah Marangu hopes to make a difference to mental health care in Kenya. Elijah Marangu hopes to make a difference to mental health care in Kenya.

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