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Int Rev Psychiatry. 2004 Feb-May;16(1-2):63-72.

Zambia mental health country profile.

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  • 1Central Board of Health, Lusaka, Zambia.


This country profile for Zambia was compiled between 1998 and 2002. The objectives of the exercise were to first of all avail policymakers, other key decision makers and leaders in Zambia, information about mental health in Zambia in order to assist policy and services development. Secondly, to facilitate comparative analyses of mental health services between countries. The work involved formation of a core group of experts who coordinated the collection of information from the various organizations in Zambia. The information was later shared to a broad spectrum of stakeholders for consensus. A series of focus group discussions (FGDs) supplemented the information collected. There are various factors that contribute to mental health in Zambia. It is clear from the Zambian perspective that social, demographic, economic, political, environmental, cultural and religious influences affect the mental health of the people. With a population of 10.3 million and annual growth rate of 2.9%, Zambia is one of the most urbanized countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty levels stood at 72.9% in 1998. In terms of unemployment, the most urbanized provinces, Lusaka (the capital city), and the copper-belt are the most affected. The gross domestic product (GDP) is US$3.09 billion dollars while per capita income is US$300. The total budget allocation for health in the year 2002 was 15% while the proportion of the GDP per capita expenditure for health was 5.6%. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rates stand at 20% among the reproductive age group 15-49 years. Political instability and wars in neighbouring states has resulted in an influx of refugees. Environmental factors affecting the country include natural and man-made disasters such as floods and drought, mine accidents, and deforestation. To a large extent in Zambia, people who are mentally ill are stigmatized, feared, scorned at, humiliated and condemned. However, caring for mental ill health in old age is positively perceived. It is traditionally the duty and responsibility of the extended family to look after the aged. Gender based violence (GBV) is another issue. Women, who are totally dependent on their spouses economically, are forced by circumstances to continue living in abusive relationships to the detriment of their mental well-being. In Zambia, the family is considered sacrosanct and the affairs of the family members, private. It is within this context that GBV is regarded as a family affair and therefore a private affair, yet spouse beating has led to depression and in some cases death. In terms of psychiatric services, there are close to 560 beds for psychiatric patients across the country. Common mental disorders found in Zambia are acute psychotic episodes, schizophrenia, affective disorders, alcohol related problems and organic brain syndromes. About 70-80% of people with mental health problems consult traditional health practitioners before they seek help from conventional health practitioners. Over time the number of frontline mental health workers and professional staff has been declining. This is due to the 'brain drain', retirement, death and low output from training institutions. For practicing psychiatrists, only one is available for the whole country. Other key mental health workers such as psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists are also in short supply. All in all, the mental health services situation in Zambia could be described as critical, requiring urgent attention.

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