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Date: 2016-11-20
Title: Landmark Conference Convenes to Address Mental Health Needs of the African Diaspora

By Kelsey Johnson

On November 17th and 18th, 54 prominent psychiatrists, mental health specialists, and research fellows from the United States and Africa and the diaspora gathered in Cape Town, South Africa for the African Diaspora Global Mental Health Conference. Hosted by affiliates of Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, the conference led discussions on contemporary mental health issues for people of African descent. This conference followed a 2002 conference titled "The African Diaspora: Psychiatric Issues," which brought together 40 psychiatrists of African-descent to analyze, discuss, and address the role of psychiatrists in healing the mental health problems of people of African-descent, both in Africa and throughout the world. Under the vision of Dr. Chester M. Pierce, and coordinated by a team that included Drs. David Henderson and Greg Fricchione, this first meeting was held at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was the hope of the group that the meeting would lead to new and important cross-national, cross-disciplinary projects designed to serve all people, everywhere.

While much progress has been made, the care for those suffering from mental illness in Africa and the diaspora remains under-resourced and underdeveloped. Inspired by the slow progress, Dr. David Henderson, Professor, Chair and Chief of Psychiatry at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Eliot Sorel, Professor of Global Health and Psychiatry at George Washington University, Dr. Greg Fricchione, Professor and Director of the MGH Division of Global Psychiatry, Dr. Bonga Chiliza, Senior Psychiatry Lecturer at University of Stellenbosch, Dr. Mashadi Motlana, Director of the Dr. Nthato Motlana Foundation, and Dr. Michelle Durham, Psychiatrist and Residency Director at Boston Medical Center, began an 18-month effort to organize a follow-up African Diaspora meeting. With the recent passing of Dr. Pierce in September 2016, Dr. Henderson stated, "Leave it to Chet to inspire generations of people to improve mental health care for large populations, even in his passing."

The participants of the second African Diaspora meeting were honored by a groundbreaking keynote address by former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, titled "A Global Strategy for Mental Health Promotion." In his address, Dr. Satcher set the groundwork for the conference by discussing his personal experiences in public health policy development, examining the current status of mental health worldwide, outlining the most (and least) successful public health interventions from his time in office, and proposing a global strategy to improve mental health outcomes around the world.

Dr. Satcher's keynote speech, in conjunction with the other discussions that took place in this conference, served to set the stage for the future establishment of the Africa Global Mental Health Institute (AGMHI), an international organization dedicated to the achievement of these goals. To learn more about the AGMHI, visit their website or click here to sign up for their newsletter.