The recently concluded World Psychiatric Association (WPA) Regional Meeting, held in Abuja, Nigeria on October 22 -24, 2009, attracted 286 delegates from 19 countries. Held in collaboration with the African Association of Psychiatrists and Allied Professionals (AAPAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and hosted by the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), the theme of the meeting, “Scaling up and reaching down – addressing unmet need for service”, was chosen to reflect a major focus of current attention among stakeholders in global mental health, including both the WHO and the WPA.
The meeting was declared open by the Nigerian President, who was represented by the Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin. In his opening address, the President informed the audience that a revised mental health policy and draft mental health legislation for Nigeria were going through a process of stakeholder consultations and was hopeful that these documents would soon begin to receive official attention. The WPA President, Professor Mario Maj, highlighted the items in the WPA triennium plan with salience for the region. These included the focus on policy engagement to extend mental health service, development of educational programmes for young psychiatrists, and attention to populations with special needs, including those with recent experience of disaster. Dr Shekhar Saxena from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the WHO assured the audience of the importance attached to service scale up in the region as attested to by the identification of several countries in need of focussed support in the Organization’s mHGAP document. Oye Gureje, the meeting convener, set the meeting in the context of several decades of growth of academic psychiatry in Nigeria. He reminded participants that the first formal meeting of psychiatrists from across the world to be held in Sub-Saharan Africa was convened in Nigeria by the late Professor Adeoye Lambo in November 1961. Dr Frank Njenga, the out-going President of AAPAP traced the history of the development of the Association and noted that, in a relatively short period of its existence, it has established credibility as a professional organization.
The meeting had a full complement of scientific programmes including plenary lectures, key lectures, symposia and free papers reporting new research. Specific attention was given to several components of the WPA Action Plan 2008 – 2011. These included a symposium on successful experiences in our field (with examples of mental health reform (Uganda), cultural therapy (Jamaica), and a mental health/HIV initiative (in several African countries)); and a forum discussion focussing on the roles of professional societies in health care reforms. The symposium in which updates of the revision process of the ICD and DSM were provided by Drs Darrel Regier and Shekhar Saxena was of particular interest to many participants. Two special workshops were held during the meeting: one on communicating with children and adults with intellectual disabilities (by Professor Sheila Hollins) and the other on the United Nations Interagency Standing Committee Guidelines on responding to conflicts and disasters (by Dr J Nakku and colleagues).
Two pre- and post-meeting events are worthy of note. A study group, sponsored by the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists and Allied Professionals was conducted for three days prior to the commencement of the meeting. Directed by Professor Brian Robertson, it had Professor Myron Belfer as a member of the faculty. Another workshop for young psychiatrists on professional and leadership skills, directed by Professor Norman Sartorius, was organized to follow the main meeting. Other members of the faculty were Professors Graham Thornicroft, Soraya Seedat and Oye Gureje.
A presentation was made by Professor Norman Sartorius in honor of Professor Adeoye Lambo, the first Nigerian psychiatrist who later became the Deputy Director-General of the WHO at the conference dinner. It traced the development and execution of the International Pilot Study of Schizophrenia, a pioneering multi-country collaborative project of the WHO in which both Professors Sartorius and Lambo as well as another participant at the meeting, Professor Michael Olatawura, were involved. Backed with black-and-white photos taken during the project’s execution, the presentation provided young members of the audience a historical excursion to the distant past of psychiatric epidemiology. A formal change of leadership of the AAPAP was also witnessed at the dinner when Dr Frank Njenga, the out-going President, handed over the ceremonial chain of office to Professor Oye Gureje as the new President. As part of the social events during the meeting, a cocktail was arranged at the premises of the British High Commission by the African Division of the Royal College of Psychiatrists for invited delegates.