Sama Richard wins Best Journalist in West Africa for Impactful Reporting on Mental Health

Sama Richard

Sama Tounwendsida Hugues Richard, a Burkina Faso based journalist for
L’Observateur Paalga : Quotidien d’Information du Burkina Faso  has been named the 2019 West Africa Journalist of the Year for his impactful reporting of mental health in Burkina Faso.

Richard was one of 21 finalists selected for outstanding reporting in the sub region to mark the West Africa Media Excellence Awards 2019 (WAMECA2019) which was held at Alisa hotel last Saturday(Oct. 19th 2019).

“I am honoured to have won this award,” Richard said. “So many people with mental disabilities are neglected and I knew that it was a story that needed to be told to humanize them.” Richard said

Richard’s story, sheds light on discrimination & abuse against people living with mental illness. A situation that has pushed natives of the Northern part of Burkina Faso to embark on a crusade since 2010 to restore dignity and chances of reintegration to those treated without regard.

“Generally everyone is fleeing people with mental illnesses” Richard told Ghanahealthnest.com.

“But the members of the association “Save the rest” have decided to dedicate their lives to care for the sick, abandoned by their own family. It’s something new. I wanted to highlight the humanitarian work of the members of the association and show that mental illness is not inevitable” he added.

Hugues Sama Richard, also won the best journalist for his story in the health category during the nights event.

When asked by Ghanahealthnest.com about how the story impacted him, Richard responded that he learnt a lot about mental illness.

“The report changed my perception of the disease. I also learned that there are still people like the members of the association who have the spirit of solidarity and that with the will we can do many things” Richard continued.

“The price is not an outcome but an invitation to continue in the job well done”, he intoned.

Mental Health in the sub region

Despite the fact that mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of disability, the sub-region in particular struggles to meet a number of the key parameters.  In many sub-Saharan countries, less than 1% of already small health budgets is spent on mental health, and much of this is used wastefully on institutional care.

Many sub-Saharan African countries have only few if not one to none psychiatrist per million population. The few mental health professionals available tend to be located mostly in the large cities. Psychiatric nurses and psychologists exist in very small numbers, and primary care personnel do not treat mental health conditions, so that in many countries, 90% of people with mental illnesses have no access to treatment, especially in poor and in rural areas.  The limited access to professional mental health care, in addition to prevailing cultural beliefs, means that there is frequent recourse to care by spiritual and traditional medicine practitioners, some of whom employ abusive practices such as chaining patients, physical abuse and food deprivation.

The limited number of mental health professionals is in part because of low investment, but also because mental ill health is so stigmatised that people do not consider working in mental health as a career option. To make the situation worse, because there is also a shortage of mental health personnel in high income countries, there is a very high level of brain drain in this sector.

The 2019 West Africa Media Excellence Awards received 724 entries from over 15 countries in West Africa. It was organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa(MFWA) with support from the U.S. Embassy Ghana, The Hewlett Foundation, Access Now, MTN, DW AkademieStanbic Bank Ghana and Alisa Hotel