Fighting Disease: Liberia
Building Health Infrastructure
Although the decades-long civil conflict in Liberia ended in 2003, the psychological impact of the war has contributed to a mental health crisis in the post-conflict nation. Only a small percentage of the Liberian population has access to appropriate mental health care, although the need for these services is much greater.
Despite the Liberian government's strong commitment to improving access to health care, a lack of mental health expertise in the country has challenged the government's ambitious plans to dramatically expand the health infrastructure.
With nowhere to go to receive care for depression, substance abuse, or other mental health and neurological disorders such as epilepsy, many Liberians suffer needlessly and experience stigma and discrimination for having these highly treatable conditions.
However, there is hope. Building upon nearly two decades of Carter Center efforts to foster peace and democracy in Liberia, the Carter Center Mental Health Program in 2010 launched a five-year initiative to help create a sustainable mental health system in Liberia that will address a broad range of mental health conditions. The overarching goal is to improve functioning in people with mental illnesses in the most populous counties of Liberia. The initiative is based in part on the Center's Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative model.
In August 2011, The Carter Center, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, reached a major program milestone when it graduated the nation's inaugural class of locally trained mental health clinicians. These 21 credentialed nurses and physician assistants from seven counties throughout Liberia will return to their communities to help integrate mental health care into local primary care systems or train other educators to continue building a sustainable mental health work force.
In fall 2011, the first group of graduates began using Carter Center-provided laptops and custom software developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology during their practice to help the Center and the Liberian government monitor the impact of the training program on patient care and mental health outcomes.
In addition to building a mental health work force, the Center also assists the Liberia Ministry of Health and Social Welfare by: collaborating on implementation of the national mental health plan; developing support models for family caregivers; promoting mental health advocacy; and working to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses.
At the graduation of the fourth class locally trained and credentialed mental health clinicians in spring 2013, The Carter Center, in partnership with the Liberian government, announced that all 15 counties in Liberia now have access to at least one locally trained and credentialed mental health clinician. To date, more than 100 mental health clinicians have been trained to serve 3.8 million Liberians. Read the press release.
The ultimate goal within the next few years is to train 150 specialized nurses and physician assistants and 300 other mental health professionals, such as community mental health workers.