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Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci. 2015 Jun;24(3):233-40. doi: 10.1017/S2045796015000281. Epub 2015 Apr 2.

Generating evidence to narrow the treatment gap for mental disorders in sub-Saharan Africa: rationale, overview and methods of AFFIRM.

Author information

  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health,Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health,University of Cape Town,46 Sawkins Road,Rondebosch,Cape Town,South Africa.
  • 2Department of Psychiatry,School of Medicine,College of Health Sciences,Addis Ababa University,Addis Ababa,Ethiopia.
  • 3Department of Mental Health,College of Health Sciences,University of Malawi,Blantyre,Malawi.
  • 4Department of Mental Health,Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,Baltimore,USA.
  • 5School of Applied Human Sciences,University of KwaZulu-Natal,Durban,South Africa.
  • 6Department of Psychiatry,University of KwaZulu-Natal,Durban,South Africa.
  • 7Department of Psychiatry,College of Health Sciences,University of Zimbabwe,Harare,Zimbabwe.
  • 8Health Services and Population Research Department,Centre for Global Mental Health,Institute of Psychiatry,King's College London,London,UK.
  • 9Department of Health of the Government of South Africa,Pretoria,South Africa.
  • 10Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health,Perinatal Mental Health Project,Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health,University of Cape Town,Cape Town,South Africa.
  • 11Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health,University of Cape Town,Cape Town,South Africa.
  • 12Department of Psychology,Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health,Stellenbosch University,Stellenbosch,South Africa.
  • 13Aklilu-Lemma Institute of Pathobiology,Addis Ababa University,Addis Ababa,Ethiopia.
  • 14Department of Psychiatry,Faculty of Medicine,Makerere University,Kampala,Uganda.
  • 15School of Public Health and Family Medicine,University of Cape Town,Cape Town,South Africa.
  • 16BasicNeeds,Kampala,Uganda.
  • 17Department of Psychology,Faculty of Medicine,University of Ghana,Accra,Ghana.
  • 18Ontario Shores Center for Mental health Sciences,Ontario,Canada.
  • 19Department of Health,Behavior,and Society,Johns Hopkins School of Public Health,Baltimore,MD,USA.
  • 20Mailman School of Public Health,Columbia University,New York,USA.


There is limited evidence on the acceptability, feasibility and cost-effectiveness of task-sharing interventions to narrow the treatment gap for mental disorders in sub-Saharan Africa. The purpose of this article is to describe the rationale, aims and methods of the Africa Focus on Intervention Research for Mental health (AFFIRM) collaborative research hub. AFFIRM is investigating strategies for narrowing the treatment gap for mental disorders in sub-Saharan Africa in four areas. First, it is assessing the feasibility, acceptability and cost-effectiveness of task-sharing interventions by conducting randomised controlled trials in Ethiopia and South Africa. The AFFIRM Task-sharing for the Care of Severe mental disorders (TaSCS) trial in Ethiopia aims to determine the acceptability, affordability, effectiveness and sustainability of mental health care for people with severe mental disorder delivered by trained and supervised non-specialist, primary health care workers compared with an existing psychiatric nurse-led service. The AFFIRM trial in South Africa aims to determine the cost-effectiveness of a task-sharing counselling intervention for maternal depression, delivered by non-specialist community health workers, and to examine factors influencing the implementation of the intervention and future scale up. Second, AFFIRM is building individual and institutional capacity for intervention research in sub-Saharan Africa by providing fellowship and mentorship programmes for candidates in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Each year five Fellowships are awarded (one to each country) to attend the MPhil in Public Mental Health, a joint postgraduate programme at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University. AFFIRM also offers short courses in intervention research, and supports PhD students attached to the trials in Ethiopia and South Africa. Third, AFFIRM is collaborating with other regional National Institute of Mental Health funded hubs in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, by designing and executing shared research projects related to task-sharing and narrowing the treatment gap. Finally, it is establishing a network of collaboration between researchers, non-governmental organisations and government agencies that facilitates the translation of research knowledge into policy and practice. This article describes the developmental process of this multi-site approach, and provides a narrative of challenges and opportunities that have arisen during the early phases. Crucial to the long-term sustainability of this work is the nurturing and sustaining of partnerships between African mental health researchers, policy makers, practitioners and international collaborators.


Mental health; multicultural; primary care; randomised controlled trials

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