Ethiopia: Health professionals learn to manage mental health issues in prisons

27 October 2014

Addis Ababa (ICRC) – Seventeen health professionals completed a five-day seminar in Addis Ababa today on mental health in prisons. The aim of the training, organized jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Ethiopia's federal prison administration, was to enhance the participants’ skills detecting, treating and managing mental-health problems among detainees, in accordance with recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to WHO, at least half of the more than nine million detainees around the world struggle with personality disorders, and about one million prisoners worldwide suffer from serious mental disorders such as psychosis or depression. Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental illnesses combined with limited resources can make it difficult for detainees with such disorders to obtain the health care or other support they require.

"By organizing this seminar for prison health staff, we are reaffirming the right of prisoners, like any members of society, to mental-health services," said Ato Mebrate Teklemariam, deputy director-general of the federal prison administration.

"This is the first time that a seminar of this kind has been held in Ethiopia. We are now opening the door to quality mental-health services for detainees in the country," said Ariane Tombet, head of the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. The country is the first in the world to implement WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) in prisons. "The knowledge acquired by health professionals at this training seminar will result in positive changes in the lives of detainees with mental-health problems, and we hope that the Ethiopian experience will motivate prison authorities in other countries to launch similar initiatives."

The seminar, which brought together health staff from federal prisons and the regional state prisons of Tigray, Amhara and Oromiya, offered participants the opportunity to acquire the knowledge necessary to implement the programme.

The ICRC has been visiting detainees in Ethiopia for more than three decades. In cooperation with prison authorities, it carries out a wide range of humanitarian activities with the aim of improving the treatment and living conditions of detainees. It also endeavours to help prison authorities at different levels improve the management of prisons and the health care and water and sanitation services provided for inmates.

For further information, please contact:
Zewdu Ayalew, ICRC Addis Ababa, tel: +251 11 647 83 000