By David Kattenburg
Health care priorities in Africa are understandably geared towards combating the Big Three—malaria, HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis. A much less publicized challenge facing African health care systems is the dire shortage of trained psychiatrists and other health care professionals.
Ethiopia is a good example. Until recently, this landlocked nation of eighty million, in the Horn of Africa, had a total of eleven trained psychiatrists. Efforts to expand this number gathered pace in January 2003, with the formation of the country’s first training program for Ethiopian psychiatry residents. Seven residents were accepted in the first intake. Together with three faculty members, these young psychiatrists taught in the country’s new three-year psychiatry program.
At this point, the University of Toronto stepped in to help. The Toronto-Addis Ababa Psychiatry Project is a partnership between the Departments of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University.
Between November 2003 and March 2010, TAAPP sent seventeen Canadian teaching teams to Ethiopia, each consisting of two teaching psychiatrists and a psychiatry resident from the University of Toronto. Through this exchange, a total of twenty-five Ethiopian psychiatrists have been trained, and the University of Addis Ababa psychiatry faculty has increased in size from three to eleven. Four of Ethiopia’s newly graduated psychiatrists have opened the country’s first psychiatry departments in university hospitals outside the capital city, Addis Ababa.
Perhaps most importantly– thanks in large part to the lobbying activity of Ethiopia’s developing psychiatric care community–mental health is now being integrated into the Ethiopian government’s primary health care strategy.
Now in its seventh year, TAAPP has expanded its activities to include training stints in Canada for new Ethiopian faculty members, support for new departments of psychiatry outside Addis Ababa, and the development of annual continuing education workshops for Ethiopia’s expanding community of qualified psychiatrists.
The TAAPP project also offers a model for the expansion of post-graduate training in other Ethiopian medical residency and Ph.D. programs. The Toronto-Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration now involves six faculties at the University of Toronto and their counterparts in Ethiopia.
TAAPP is funded on a shoestring. The project welcomes support from anyone committed to reducing Ethiopia’s cycle of famine and poverty, and to tackling its pernicious brain drain. “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said.