RWANDA— A collective involving government agencies and non-governmental organizations in Rwanda has teamed up to launch the Baho Neza – Mental Health Project.

The collective involves the Rwanda Biomedical Agency (RBC), a governmental agency that promotes high-quality, affordable, and sustainable healthcare services, the Imbuto Foundation, the Genocide Survivor’s Students Association (GAERG), and Baho Heza.

Initially, Baho Heza is a project initiated by First Lady, Jeannette Kagame to raise awareness on family planning and early childhood development.

The new Baho Neza-Mental Health project will tackle the mental health issues plaguing the Rwandan population through different forums and campaigns.

This project seeks to address the urgent problem of mental health in Rwanda and is focusing on six districts i.e., Nyamasheke, Nyaruguru, Nyagatare, Musanze, Bugesera, and Gasabo.

The aim of this project is to raise awareness of mental health among families and foster better well-being in these communities.

The project also aims to provide special attention to vulnerable groups such as mothers and their children, adolescents, and young people, as well as Genocide survivors.

Ultimately, the Baho Heza mental health project goal is to connect the most vulnerable to the necessary mental health services available at their respective health centers.

Alumni from the GAERG an organization devoted to championing mental well-being and resilience, are contributing to the implementation of the project in Bugesera District (Eastern Province) and Gasabo District (Kigali City).

At the Bugesera and Gasabo campaigns’, residents meet mental health specialists during the new campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues that Rwandan society is facing.

GAERG proactively organized an extensive awareness campaign across eight cells in the Bugesera and Gasabo districts to address the challenges encountered during the implementation of the project.

The intensive campaign successfully reached over 1,500 individuals within a span of two days.

Also, the mental health awareness campaign was conducted in Musenyi, Rulindo, Kintambwe, and Nyaburoro cells, among others, where it had not been previously conducted.

The campaign sought to educate community members about mental health, create a nurturing atmosphere that encourages seeking help, and dispel any stigma associated with mental health issues.

Furthermore, community members were encouraged to participate in the Baho Neza safe spaces established within their communities.

Redempta Kayitesi, a staff member of GAERG’s Healing and Resilience programme, emphasized the importance of raising awareness and providing mental health information to the community.

“The goal is to promote a better understanding of mental health, eradicate stigma and misconceptions, and increase access to support services within the community,” Kayitesi said.

Kayitesi urged community members to actively engage in the Baho Neza safe spaces as part of their journey toward mental well-being.

The impact of the campaign was evident as participants shared their experiences, noting the valuable information they gained about recognizing mental health issues, opening up to friends and family, and seeking help when needed.

Shaping a new mental health approach in Rwanda

Dr. Jean Damascène Iyamuremye, the Director of the Psychiatric Care Unit in the Mental Health Division told The New Times of Rwanda, that the Ministry of Health (MOH) intended to explore the mental status of the Rwandan population and the impact of COVID on mental health.

According to a study conducted by the MOH Rwanda on the status of mental health in the country in 2018, the prevalence of mental health disorders was estimated at 20.5 percent among Rwandans.

The dubbed Rwanda Mental Health Survey, 61.7 percent of people have awareness of mental health services but only 5.3 percent are reported to have used them.

Additionally, 10 percent of the above are new patients while 35.6 percent are survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Moreover, the study found that the most observed mental disorders in the general population were major depressive episodes, affecting 12 percent of respondents, followed by panic disorder at 8.1 percent and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 3.6 percent.

Among the Genocide survivors, the prevalence of major depressive episodes stood at a staggering 35 percent, with PTSD and panic disorders affecting 27.9 percent and 26.8 percent respectively.

The survey also revealed a notable prevalence of alcohol use disorder, reported at 1.6 percent within the general population and four percent among the Genocide survivors.

These findings emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive mental health support and interventions in Rwanda to address the significant burden of mental disorders in both the general population and among Genocide survivors.

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