Iregi Mwenja

Job role: 
Founder/CEO
Member type: 
Educator / Academic
Practitioner/Implementer
Researcher
Service User Representative/Advocate
Brief Biography: 

Background

​Mental illness can be a very lonely place to be, especially when no help seems to be forthcoming. Pamoja means ‘we are one’ in Kiswahili. The Pamoja Initiative is about reaching out and bringing help to the many who suffer without help.

In Kenya, studies show that 10.8% of Kenyans have a mental illness at any point in time. However, the government invests just 0.01% of the health expenditure on mental health and has only 62 government psychiatrists serving 47 million Kenyans (WHO 2017). Consequently, mental health services remain practically inaccessible to most Kenyans; particularly those who need it most – the poor and socially excluded groups.

Mental illness is a debilitating illness that has a terrible impact on individuals, families and communities. The WHO Global Burden of Disease 2001 indicate that 33% of the Years Lived with Disability (YLD) are due to neuropsychiatric disorders.

Unipolar depressive disorders alone lead to 12.15% of years lived with disability, and rank as the third leading contributor to the global burden of diseases. Four of the six leading causes of years lived with disability are due to neuropsychiatric disorders. The need for help is urgent.

Bridging the gap

The Pamoja Initiative is a social innovation that bridges the gap in mental health treatment and care at the grassroots. It provides a platform for psychologists and people with lived mental health experiences to volunteer their time to help our community overcome the biggest barrier to treatment – access (cost and distance).

A 3-pronged approach

Advocacy, free treatment and social support are the initiatives focus areas. These are currently achieved through our two categories of volunteers:

Volunteers with lived experience and advocates. We train those who are living positively with a mental illness (and HIV/GBV) as peer support specialists and advocates. They offer peer support and peer counseling in a unique way – blending lived experience and training.

Volunteer psychotherapists. We recruit trained specialists motivated to give back to their community. They fall into two categories:

Young graduates who want to get hands-on experience, exposure, and professional growth.

Working professionals who want to give something back to the community, develop new skills, or build on existing experience and knowledge.

Beneficiaries

This social innovation targets the poor and socially excluded groups in our community who are left out by mainstream actors. Our beneficiaries are largely drawn from people living in slums, vulnerable adolescents, PLWHIV, prisoners, drug users, sex workers, GBV survivors, survivors of disasters such as .

HIV and GBV Both HIV and GBV are a cause and effect of mental health problems. Unfortunately, as the incidences of GBV and HIV increase among the poor and socially excluded groups, so does the prevalence of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, traumatic stress symptoms and substance abuse.

Last year, Pamoja Initiative started a dedicated HIV psychosocial support program run by one of our members who has lived with the virus for 21 years; a response to the growing demand for psychological` support from people living with HIV among our beneficiaries.

Approach: 
Human rights
Empowerment and service user involvement
Advocacy
Technology
Prevention and promotion
Treatment, care and rehabilitation
Regions of interest: 
Africa
Population: 
Children and adolescents
Adults
Older adults
Families and carers
Minority populations
Humanitarian and conflict health
Communicable diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, TB)
Disability
Disorders of interest: 
Child behavioural and developmental disorders
Psychosis/bipolar disorder
Depression/anxiety/stress-related disorders
Alcohol/drug use disorders
Self-harm/suicide
Dementia and other neurocognitive disorders
All disorders
Country: 
Kenya