Maintaining momentum: The buzz following the Innovation Fair

This blog entry by Ashley Leichner and co-contributors Inka Weissbecker, Zeinab Hijazi and Chantilly Wijayasinha (International Medical Corps) is a follow up piece on the landmark event hosted by the World Bank and the World Health Organization on mental health. 

Last month’s Innovation Fair, organized by the Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank Group’s meeting “Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Priority,” in Washington D.C., highlighted the importance of mental health programs as part of development. The Fair showcased a collection of innovative projects aiming to make quality mental health care accessible, acceptable, and affordable to vulnerable communities around the world. This opening event set the stage for organizations like mine, International Medical Corps, to highlight their work and engage with ministry focal points, donors and fellow innovators.

Momentum was the buzz word of the week, with many delegates calling for the community of NGOs, donors and the media to keep up the positive energy and move forward by looking for innovation opportunities to scale up mental health programs, and continue to engage through networks like MHIN that support sharing of resources and face-to-face discussions. Innovators must continue to advocate for longer-term funding with the aim of evaluating and scaling up innovative approaches to mental health. The Innovation Fair provided a platform for just this – by showcasing that there is growing evidence for successful, adaptable, cost-effective and sustainable community based mental health programs. We framed our presentation within lessons learned from a previous program in which we received funds to evaluate our mental health integration into primary health care approach in three humanitarian settings which demonstrated six incremental and critical steps are necessary for meaningful integration planning and implementation.  

Our innovation focused on a step-by-step process for setting up sustainable integration of quality mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services into primary healthcare in the Middle East. With the collaboration of local partners, International Medical Corps has been integrating mental healthcare into the primary healthcare infrastructure in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Our programs brought MHPSS services to over 72,000 beneficiaries in 2015, helping reach those in need for mental health services in a way that is accessible and non-stigmatizing. Our approach  includes training healthcare staff & paraprofessionals and providing comprehensive case management that ensures mental health problems of individuals and families are met, communities are engaged, and multiple, basic and complex needs are addressed. This is layered with incorporating mental health into health policy and legislative frameworks that are accompanied by adequate resources, even in emergencies. An example of this is our work with the National Mental Health Programme in Lebanon where we have supported the Ministry of Health in the development and implementation of their national mental health strategy, which was also featured at the fair.

The key lesson learned from our participation in the Innovation Fair is the importance of continued dialogue among implementers, researchers and with donors to emphasize specific approaches to building strong mental health programs that support longer term efforts and development goals. Effective approaches to develop such mental health programs should include:

  • Contributions to local capacity development
  • Active coordination with local governments
  • Support for policy development and implementation plans
  • Emphasis on high quality services for sustainable outcomes

Further efforts and coordination for the systematic inclusion of these approaches, both in funding and implementation of long-term development programming, will enhance overall health and development of communities as a whole.


Ashley Leichner joined International Medical Corps in 2013. She provides technical guidance and support to global Mental Health and Psychosocial Support programs, focusing on documenting lessons learned, evaluations and case studies for evidence based practices. She is the focal point for child and youth MHPSS programming and her recent assignments have been in Gaza, Jordan, Nepal and the Philippines.

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An interesting read. Thank you!
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