Maternal Mental Health Across Africa – a symposium

On March 17th 2021, a symposium in Maternal Mental Health Across Africa was held virtually. This event was funded by a SeNSS and ESRC postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Dr Katie Rose Sanfilippo at Goldsmiths, University of London. It was cohosted by The African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health and the Global Alliance for Maternal Mental Health.

The symposium brought together over 250 individuals representing 31 different countries including 14 different countries across Africa. It brought together researchers, health professionals, policy makers, charities and individuals with lived experience all interested in working together to ensure that maternal mental health is prioritized in educational and health initiatives across the Africa. It also aimed to forge new collaborations across disciplines and countries.

The event included an opening talk from Dr Alain Gregoire about the role of alliances in promoting maternal mental health. It also included two panel discussions. The first panel, chaired by Dr Robert Stewart with the African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health, discussed research initiatives around maternal mental health happening across Africa and included talks from Dr Tesera Bitew from Ethiopia, Dr Genesis Chorwe-Sungani from Malawi, Associate Professor Simone Honikman from South Africa and Dr Juliet Nakku from Uganda. The second panel discussed pathways to policy and was chaired by Prof Oye Gureje from Nigeria. This panel included talks from Mr Buba Darboe from The Gambia, Dr Charlotte Hanlon from Ethiopia, Prof Crick Lund from South Africa and Dr Bibilola Oladeji from Nigeria.

Breakout room sessions were held in the middle of the day to encourage discussion and networking. These sessions, led by experts, included a wide variety of topics including culturally relevant approaches to maternal mental health interventions, health promotion and birth preparedness, intimate partner violence, mental health care for adolescent mothers, response to covid-19 and telehealth, and maternal health and disability.

As a part of the event the Maternal Mental Health Alliance The Gambia was launched. This Alliance brought together Ministry of Health departments, advocacy organizations and health professionals from over 30 organizations and departments across The Gambia. One of the founding organizations is CHIME, and some of the executive committee members are CHIME team members which shows the commitment of CHIME to ensure impact beyond research. The Alliance’s mission is to improve maternal, child, and adolescent mental wellbeing in the Gambia through the promotion and advocacy for comprehensive, quality, affordable and sustainable integrated maternal mental health services for the reduction of morbidity and mortality related to maternal mental health.

Throughout the day, women and men from a variety of countries including The Gambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana shared their lived experience of mental health problems during pregnancy or after birth with many discussing how this led them to become leaders in their own communities. This ensured that the discussions around policy and research were grounded in people’s lived experience.

Overall, the event was a success with people reporting that they had learned about the evidence-based practices and research findings around maternal mental health, they had become aware of the developing programs and professionals working to improve maternal mental health across Africa, they had a better understanding of how to integrate maternal mental health into primary health care and policy and were able to identify shared experiences with others.

We ended the day by asking all participants to state what they will do or change as a result of this event. Their responses below show the potential lasting impact this event will have in ensuring women and families have access to maternal mental health care across Africa.

“I will now be able to manage mothers who present with maternal mental health problems both antenatally and during the postnatal period”

“I will spread the word for the need to have programs in place that support women, babies, fathers, and families in the child bearing years”

“As a humanitarian and heath and community development worker I will encourage stewardship in others to keep the mandate going”

“I will follow up and meet on Zoom with a colleague in Cameroon to learn about the service he designed there.”

“We are in the process of writing a research grant for perinatal health and this symposium has given me more of a sense of direction.“

“Host similar events in my area”

“I plan to join the groups in my country campaigning and advocating for better services for women with perinatal and postnatal mental health disorders. This will identify risk factors and help in developing culturally appropriate interventions through proper screening,  diagnosing and  treatment.”


Information on attendees