When the prob­lem is the op­por­tu­nity

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

Dixon Chibandi is one of only 12 psy­chi­a­trists in Zim­babwe.

But Zim­babwe is a coun­try of 14 mil­lion, so this makes the ra­tio one psy­chi­a­trist to ev­ery one mil­lion peo­ple. Ob­vi­ously this doesn’t work very well. Sev­eral years back, Dixon got a phone call from a vil­lage 200km away – a young woman need­ing psy­chi­atric help. He told her to come to his prac­tice in Harare to see him. A few weeks later, her mother called to say the young woman had com­mit­ted sui­cide. Dixon asked why she hadn’t come to see him. The mother said they couldn’t af­ford the $15 bus fare. That’s when he re­alised the prob­lem needed a creative so­lu­tion.

The med­i­cal term is gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der (or GAD), de­fined as: “Six months or more of chronic, ex­ag­ger­ated, un­founded worry and ten­sion””

Young women were suf­fer­ing in vil­lages all over Zim­babwe.

So Dixon did what creative peo­ple do: he turned the prob­lem into an op­por­tu­nity.

Be­cause there was some­thing else in all those vil­lages: grand­moth­ers.

Grand­moth­ers who all wanted some­one to talk to, as well as young women who needed some­one to lis­ten to them.

Dixon be­gan train­ing grand­moth­ers very broadly in cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy, where the pa­tient and the prac­ti­tioner solve the prob­lem to­gether. He de­scribes it as “ev­i­dence-based talk ther­apy”. The Zim­bab­wean word for de­pres­sion is “ku­fungi­sisa”, which lit­er­ally means “think­ing too much”.

The main thing the grand­moth­ers had to learn was lis­ten­ing. Dixon’s bril­liant in­no­va­tion was the “friend­ship bench”. An open-air wooden bench, where a young woman could talk to a grand­mother.

It was cheap and easy to con­struct in vil­lages all over Zim­babwe.

And the informality made it more ac­ces­si­ble, much less in­tim­i­dat­ing, to the young women.

Dixon now has 70 friend­ship benches in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties across Zim­babwe.

Typ­i­cally, a treat­ment will con­sist of six one-to- one ses­sions, with a week be­tween each.

Hun­dreds of grand­moth­ers have treated 70,000 pa­tients, and the young women are five times less likely to have sui­ci­dal thoughts as a re­sult.

The grand­moth­ers are more ef­fec­tive at treat­ing de­pres­sion than doc­tors are, and the young women re­main symp­tom-free six months after treat­ment.

The re­sults of the clin­i­cal trial have been pub­lished in The Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

After six months, de­pres­sion in the con­trol group was 50% – but among friend­ship bench users, it was 14%.

De­pres­sion among those re­ceiv­ing stan­dard care was 48% – but among friend­ship bench users, it was 12%.

Sui­ci­dal thoughts were 12% among those re­ceiv­ing stan­dard care – but among friend­ship bench users, it was 2%.

Dixon says the grand­moth­ers are “sup­ported and net­worked through dig­i­tal plat­forms”.

Which just means Zim­babwe’s 12 trained psy­chi­a­trists can use mo­bile phones to con­fer with grand­moth­ers in any vil­lage, how­ever re­mote.

Dixon says there are cur­rently 600 mil­lion grand­moth­ers world­wide aged over 65, who would love to feel use­ful and needed.

At the same time, they could be help­ing to solve the prob­lems of young women in poor and un­derde­vel­oped so­ci­eties who don’t have ac­cess to psy­chi­a­trists.

Putting two prob­lems to­gether to cre­ate a so­lu­tion is what creative peo­ple do.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.