Echoing the WHO proclamation ‘ leave no-one behind’ we feel it’s important not to miss out the training needs of mental health workers who work at some distance from the capital Lusaka. Of course it is important to work out the logistics of such an initiative before rolling up with our trainers – so I am visiting the mental health units in Livingstone in Southern province and Ndola in the Copperbelt on a short 3 week planning visit to Zambia.
The trip to Livingstone by bus, even on a mini bus - as I was - which avoids the compulsory weighbridge stops for larger vehicles takes 7 hours… passing through Kafue, Mazabuka, Choma and Pemba on the way. It’s always interesting to observe the changes in Zambia at different times of the year. In January – it was the rainy season but now it is dry and the maize crop has long been harvested. Farming can only continue now where there is irrigation and it was interesting to pass the big irrigated circles – bright green beside the neighbouring dried up grass. Buses are good places to chat with your neighbour and on this occasion I was sat beside someone who worked for an HIV charity, delivering training to counsellors and especially targeting vulnerable groups like men in prisons. So a good conversation passes the time, and a stop at Choma and an egg roll from the bus station café kept me going till I arrived in Livingstone.
Livingstone was noticeably hotter than Lusaka – where at this time of year, it is cool enough to put on a fleece. I’d booked into Jollyboys Lodge which is mainly for the many backpacking travellers, who visit the area for the falls, rafting and kayaking – but serves as a comfortable and reasonably priced place to stop for a couple of days. I was made very welcome at the hospital, and met the mental health team as well as the Occupational therapy and Physiotherapy heads. Mental health services here have been much neglected over the last years, but now with new leadership – efforts to improve the service are underway, and increased referrals from the local area show that more people are seeking and receiving help and care. We hope that ZTA can deliver its course here in October – as a contribution to increasing the quality of mental healthcare in the area.
Next Ndola – another 7 hour bus journey! Boarding this bus which had seen better days, took me back to very a dodgy bus journey in Ghana on a different project last year with several break downs on the way. However this bus – though old , and with the door held closed with a rope, and with narrow seats prompting squeezing and shunting about a bit when stiffness in back or limbs begins to bite, made good and safe progress . Sharing the seat this time was a man travelling from Malawi to Congo …. a much longer journey than mine and he estimated he would not be in Congo by tonight as the border will close at nightfall. He explained he was a Congolese refugee and was just going back for a week to see how things were.
Arriving in Ndola bus station, taxi drivers come to tout their business for disembarking passengers. My taxi driver tells me there are 2 lodges of the name of Fatmols – where I am booked. Fortunately I had saved the number on my phone following my booking. I passed him my phone to call the lodge - for ease of communication – in Nyanja and confirmed where we were meant to be going … which was actually beside the football stadium on the edge of town. This prompted a brief commiseration, that Zambia had lost in the under 20s world cup against Italy last week - and I heard that England had won!
Ndola General Hospital is the biggest big hospital in the northern part of Zambia. I located the mental health unit, which as is common is located in the oldest part of the hospital. It is good to hear that a new building for mental health is in progress. I am sure that patients and staff alike will be very pleased once they are able to move into better facilities. The staff team here are enthusiastic to add Therapeutic Art as a skill for their staff. The large murals in the OT room created by a mental health patient were evidence to how patients could use art to express themselves.
Following ongoing linking up with the Ministry of Health and our new Zambian trainers – who will complete their training this year , I was able to visit Malawi for a few days and while there made a couple of visits to the mental health service in Blantyre and Zomba Hospital. These visits were enabled through the Scottish Malawi Mental Health Education Partnership (SMMHEP) and helped me understand the similarities and differences between Zambian and Malawian mental health services – and existing movement of professionals between the two neighbouring countries.
This trip has proved very productive in taking our plans for training trainers forward and the warmth and enthusiasm of the mental health leaders and staff make it a joy to do this work.
I am now back in Scotland and meet up with the ZTA team next week to plan for the next training delivery trip later this year - provinces included! We will be discussing our shortfall of funds for this trip …. Please donate so we can train trainers.. and improve the care in Zambia through using art to improve communication and mental health.