On 24th July, the first Global Disability Summit took place in London, co-hosted by the UK Government, the International Disability Alliance and the Government of Kenya. The Summit’s hashtag, #NowIsTheTime, underscored the need for urgent action.
The Summit has already resulted in 170 commitments from international organisations and governments to tackle the barriers to full and equal participation in society faced by people living with disabilities. The UK, for example, announced it will be joining an ambitious global partnership on assistive technology, in collaboration with nine governments and organisations including USAID, WHO and UNICEF.
At first, it may be difficult to see how mental health fits into some of these commitments, but in fact, mental health is very much a part of the global disability agenda. Of the one billion people living with a disability, an estimated 60% have a psychosocial disability. According to the Global Burden of Disease studies, mental, neurological and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide.
At the Summit, several panellists, including international representatives of groups for users and survivors of psychiatry, raised the issue of institutionalisation in low- and middle-income countries. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entitles people living with psychosocial disabilities to the right to community living and freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, in addition to the right to health. Yet, as reports from watchdog organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have observed, mental health care is often relegated to a few poorly-maintained, underequipped and understaffed institutions located in primarily urban areas. With few alternatives available, people living with psychosocial disabilities may find themselves detained in institutions for years at a time.
This had us thinking—in lieu of assistive technologies like wheelchairs and eyeglasses for people living with physical disabilities, how can technology help to address barriers to inclusion for people with psychosocial disabilities, such as institutionalisation?
One promising example is FaNs for Kids, a project run by Usman Hamdani at the Human Development Research Foundation, which is participating in the Ember pilot. Working in rural Pakistan, FaNs for Kids aims to support parents of children with developmental disorders, through a community-based network of trainers, organisers and peers. FaNs for Kids first worked with 70 families and 10 volunteers, covering a rural population of 30,000 people at a cost of $2 USD per month, per family. It is currently scaling up to reach a population of one million. Key to its success has been technology-assisted screening and training, developed largely in-house by a local team with a nuanced understanding of this hard-to-reach population.
With the world’s first global ministerial mental health summit on the horizon, we need to champion grassroots solutions like FaNs for Kids and secure real commitments from governments and organisations to sustain and scale up their good work. At the same time, we need to prepare innovators like Usman to answer that crucial question that follows this sort of high-level commitment: “How do we make it happen?”
Follow our work with FaNs for Kids and the other Ember innovators, for more insight into the process of preparing for sustainability and scale up.
The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Programme
Public-Private partnership providing community mental health services in Benue State. Led by Philip Ode
Support groups for indigenous women in rural Guatemala. Led by Anne Marie Chomat
The Tree that Jaya Grew: Using Tree of Life in the Rural Indian Himalayas
Jaya* was only 9 years old when I met her. She lived across the path from the house where I was staying, in a village at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. The village was quiet most of the time – stumpy mud houses with slate roofs, new pillar-box concrete houses painted lollipop colours, bordered by small step farms where wheat, corn and rice were grown in a cycle throughout the year.
An Ember Story
A’s Story - “I have waited twelve years to get this information; I don’t want other mothers to suffer like me.” - These are the words of A, a mother of two sons with intellectual disability and thalassemia living in a village in North Pakistan, where there is low literacy and no mental healthcare or caregiver services available. People have to travel miles to see a doctor, something that they can only afford to do once a year as it costs them a lot of time and money.
Buena Semilla wins Gates Award for Planting Seeds and Nurturing Change
In May 2018, the Gates Foundation announced an initial seed grant to Buena Semilla as part of Grand Challenges Explorations. This $100,000 USD award will allow Buena Semilla to extend their unique approach to women’s psychosocial health and wellbeing to new target populations in indigenous communities of Guatemala.