Physical health policies and metabolic screening in mental health care systems of sub-Saharan African countries: a systematic review.

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Mugisha J, De Hert M, Stubbs B, Basangwa D, Vancampfort D. Physical health policies and metabolic screening in mental health care systems of sub-Saharan African countries: a systematic review. Int J Ment Health Syst. 2017 Apr 19;11:31. doi: 10.1186/s13033-017-0141-7. eCollection 2017.

Background: There is a need for interventions to address the escalating mental health burden in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Addressing physical health needs should have a central role in reducing the burden and facilitating recovery in people with severe mental illness (SMI). We systematically investigated (1) physical health policies in the current mental health plans, and (2) the routine metabolic screening rates for people with SMI in SSA.

Methods: The Mental Health Atlas and MiNDbank of the World Health Organization were screened for physical health policies in mental health plans. Next, we systematically searched PubMed from inception until February 1st, 2017 for relevant studies on metabolic screening rates in people with SMI in SSA.

Results: The current systematic review shows that in 22 screened plans only 6 made reference to a physical health component or policy. Only the South-African mental health plan reported about routine screening and treatment of physical illness for people with SMI. In 2 South-African studies (n = 431) routine screening was unacceptably low with less than 1% adequately screened for all modi able metabolic syndrome risk factors.

Conclusions: Our review data clearly show that a physical health policy is yet to be embraced in mental health care systems of most SSA countries. There is a clear need for integrated mental and medical services in SSA. All psychi- atric services, including poorly developed community-based primary health care settings should standardly assess the body mass index and waist circumference at initiation of psycho-pharmacotherapy, and afterwards at regular intervals. Optimal monitoring should include assessments of fasting glucose, lipids, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Mental health care providers in SSA countries need to be informed that their roles extend beyond taking care of the mental health of their patients and assume responsibility for the physical health of their patients as well. Policy mak- ers should be made aware that investment in continued medial education and in screening for physical health risks could optimize mental and physical health improvements. The increased physical health needs of people with mental illness should be integrated into the existing Information, Education and Communication public health awareness programs of the World Health Organization. 

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