Brain and Mind Institute Deputy Director Prof Lukoye Atwoli and Ministry of Health Mental Health Division Director Dr Simon Njuguna share thoughts on brain health in Kenya during the “Healing The Brain” Conference in Nairobi. The ongoing conference has brought together leading experts to identify innovative solutions and strategies for improving brain health care and research. PHOTO/ PHOEBE USIDE

Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) Founding Director Prof Zul Merali, Aga Khan University President Dr Sulaiman Shabuddin, BMI COO & Associate Director East Africa Dr Samim Hasham and Deputy Director Prof Lukoye Atwoli share a light moment during the “Healing The Brain” Conference in Nairobi. The ongoing conference has brought together leading experts in the field to raise awareness of the current state of brain health in low- and middle-income countries and the challenges faced in providing adequate care. PHOTO / PHOEBE USIDE


By Phoebe Uside

Mental health experts and

neuroscientists convened in the Capital

City of Kenya to explore innovative

solutions and strategies to promote

brain health in low- and middle-income


The conference was held under the theme

‘Healing the Brain: Bridging the Gap in

low and middle income Nations.

The conference addressed the impact that

mental health and neuroscience have on

individuals, communities, and societies.

It also addressed the obstacles that

countries in the global south face in

addressing brain health issues including

access to care, insufficient research,

development and funding, cultural

barriers towards help-seeking behaviour

and a general lack of awareness by the


The Ministry of Health’s Mental Health

Investment Case 2021 put the burden of

mental health conditions at 62.2 billion

Kenyan Shillings as a cumulative cost

for medical bills for mental health

conditions, lost productivity through

absenteeism, presenteeism and premature


Globally, the World Health Organization

estimates that depression and anxiety

costs the world economy 1 trillion US

Dollars per year in lost productivity.

Additionally, the World Economic Forum

forecasts that the cost of mental health

conditions is projected to rise to 6

trillion US Dollars globally by 2030. It

is in this regard that neuroscientists,

researchers, and mental health experts

are calling for intervention and

investment in brain health.

“Globally, mental health receives just 2

percent of all health funding, and the

figure falls to 1 percent in lower-

income countries. In lower-income

countries, only a third of national

health insurance plans cover mental

health conditions such as depression,

and there are just 2 mental health

workers for every 100,000 people.

Here in Africa, mental health research

constitutes just 2 percent of all health

research. Yet the continent’s suicide

rate is the highest of any World Health

Organization region, with the rate for

men 40 percent higher than the global

rate,” said Aga khan University

President Dr. Sulaiman Shahabuddin in

his speech during the opening session of

the conference.

While reflecting on the inspiration

behind the conference, the Founding

Director of the Brain & Mind Institute,

Prof Zul Merali, observed that, “Indeed,

the burden of mental illness is the

largest of all diseases put together,

with great implications for the socio-

economic development of our countries.

Each of us has a role to play to address

this hidden pandemic. We hope that

through our expertise, experience, and

facilitating continuous engagements with

all relevant stakeholders, we will help

communities appreciate mental health

disorders as illnesses like other

illnesses and treat them as such.”

Reiterating this, Prof. Lukoye Atwoli,

Deputy Director of the Brain and Mind

Institute lauded the conference as a

step in the right direction to address

the challenges facing brain health in

low- and middle-income countries.

“This inaugural conference seeks to

begin these critical conversations and

bring on board partners across the board

to journey with BMI in achieving our

vision of a healthy brain, and healthy

world, by putting in measures that

culminate in bringing the right care at

the right time to the right place.

Together we will go far,” said Prof.


The Brain and Mind Institute through the

conference hopes to rally communities,

governments, and practitioners in

developing countries to make great

strides in prevention, treatment, and

awareness efforts to the silent pandemic

by putting in place impactful and well-

resourced strategies and interventions

to help close gaps in mental health

using innovative, culturally sensitive


The conference also aims to foster

collaboration among stakeholders to

promote the integration of brain health

into overall health systems. In

attendance are neuroscientists and

researchers actively engaged in studying

the brain’s functions and disorders,

medical professionals and other

healthcare providers specializing in

brain and mental health, advocacy

groups, policymakers and government

officials keen on the latest research

and developments on brain and mental


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