Johnson & Johnson partnership to boost mental healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has teamed up with Johnson & Johnson to develop a new generation of mental healthcare professionals, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Caption: In Harare, a lay health worker provides problem solving therapy to a young mother. Credit: Friendship Bench

Over the next five years, the Johnson & Johnson Scholarship Fund will provide 18 people from low-middle income countries (LMICs) the opportunity to join the MSc Global Mental Health programme. Delivered through the Centre for Global Mental Health, co-hosted by LSHTM and King’s College London, the course is a one-year rigorous programme of study in global mental health research, policy and practice, with a focus on LMICs.

Mental health disorders account for an estimated 10% of the total global burden of disease, with schizophrenia impacting 23 million people around the globe. Approximately three quarters of people suffering from mental illness live in LMICs where many lack access to quality mental healthcare. In sub-Saharan Africa there are fewer than one mental healthcare professional per 100,000 people. Accessing mental health services within local communities is known to have a positive impact on patient outcomes and overall well-being, so there is an urgent need to boost the provision of mental healthcare services in the region.

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Johnson & Johnson on this important new scholarship scheme. Mental health is an often neglected area of health that represents the leading cause of disability worldwide. Stigma is a major issue, often stopping people accessing treatment, but a wider problem exists.

“In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa there is no, or only a very limited, mental health service to seek. After receiving the highest standard of training, this new wave of mental health professionals will return home with the skills and knowledge that could make a real difference to the lives of people with mental health problems.”

This collaboration forms part of Johnson & Johnson’s new partnership with the Government of Rwanda which aims to significantly strengthen and expand access to quality mental health care in the country. This demonstration pilot for sub-Saharan Africa aims to show that it is possible to apply an affordable, scalable quality care model for the treatment of severe mental illness, specifically schizophrenia in LMICs.

Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson, said: “Mental illness is a growing global challenge that is having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities, especially in low-resource settings, and urgently needs our attention. With over 60 years of experience supporting those impacted by mental illness we are committed to expanding access to transformational mental health innovations to positively impact people’s lives. By gathering critical data through this pilot we aspire to change the trajectory of mental health prevention, treatment and care in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.”