MONROVIA, Montserrado – For the first time in the history of the Liberia Marketing Association, a school-based clinic has been established at one of the association’s daycare and kindergarten schools located at the Waterside Market.
The Carter Center Mental Health program in Liberia is tackling the initiative with sponsorship from the UBS Optimus Foundation, which is meant to establish a total of three school-based clinics at the R.S. Caufield School in Margibi and at LMA schools in Montserrado.
According to Leona Carlor Mason, project coordinator for UBS Optimus Foundation project, the project, titled Improving Child and Adolescent Mental Health in Liberia, is meant to complement the World Bank’s Psychosocial Health Resilience program in the country.
The Carter Center, has already established four school-based clinics at the B. W. Payne Elementary and Tubman High Schools in Montserrado and at Lango Lippi and Kakata Rural Teachers Training Institution Demonstration School in Margibi counties.
Leona said partners of the project include the Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia.
Mason explained that the three clinics are intended to address the health needs of children of the three institutions suffering from mental illnesses and other general health problems during school hours.
“The project has already trained 30 health and welfare professionals in the area of child and adolescent mental health and development, and plans to train with another 100 school teachers in the area of brain development and interactions with children to support optimal learning in Montserrado and Margibi counties,” Mason said.
Altogether, about 1,750 vulnerable children and adolescents will have access to mental health and psychosocial support services in the two counties.
Dr. Yatta Wapoe, head of Montserrado’s County Health Team, said mental health has been identified as a key part of the Ministry of Health’s effort to build a resilient system.
Wapoe assured the school administration and other partners that the County Health Team would work closely and continuously with the Carter Center Mental health Program to ensure that the clinics are among the best in the county.
Lydia Sherman, the deputy minister of gender, said despite the numerous challenges confronting mental health in Liberia, the Carter Center will continuously run its mental health program.
She said the initiative will help the Liberian children, adding her ministry “comes across lots of children with mental health problems that need more than just psychosocial counseling.”
The only mental health hospital in the country, E. S. Grant Mental Health Hospital, does no cater to children, Sherman said. She considers that a serious problem that should be resolved.
“Most Liberian parents do not understand the psychosocial issues of their children and see them as either bad or dumb children when they poorly perform in the school,” she said.
The clinics will require cooperation between the Gender Ministry and the Ministries of Health, Education, along with other partners addressing problems faced by Liberian children.
Muniray Iyabode Ayoka Ogunia, Health Lead for the World Bank of Liberia noted that in order for the minds of the Liberian children to be well developed, it does not require only one sector: “Those at the family and community level also have a role to play in [developing] their children.”
Ogunia said when there is a collaborative effort from many sectors, they can all ensure that children will be mentally healthy and relaxed enough for them to be able to cope with future challenges.
“The school-based mini clinic will not only cater to children that are suffering from fever or malaria but [the clinic] is there to also detect early enough what… [mental] challenges they face and address them to make them happy,” she said.
Ogunia stressed that teachers must be trained adequately in order for them to be able to detect those signs indicating poor performance in school.
“If [this is] not done, then the essence of having a school-based mini clinic will not justify its full usage,” she said.
At least one parent was pleased with the establishment of the clinic. Sando Goll said health services are a major challenge in Liberia, and parents and school administrators will no longer have to leave their work in order to rush students to the clinic or hospital for minor incidents.
“The establishment of the clinic at the school will ease the burden on parents and school administration,” Sando added.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah