Health system governance to support integrated mental health care in South Africa: Challenges and opportunities

Abstract

Background

While South Africa has a new policy framework supporting the integration of mental health care into primary health care, this is not sufficient to ensure transformation of the health care system towards integrated primary mental health care. Health systems strengthening is needed, incorporating, inter alia, capacity building and resource inputs, as well as good governance for ensuring that the relevant policy imperatives are implemented.

Objectives

To identify systemic factors within institutional and policy contexts that are likely to facilitate or impede the implementation of integrated mental health care in South Africa.

Methods

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 17 key stakeholders in the Department of Health and Department of Social Development at national level, at provincial level in the North West Province, and at district level in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda district. Participants were purposively identified based on their positions and job responsibilities. Interview questions were guided by a hybrid of Siddiqi et al.’s governance framework principles and Mikkelsen-Lopez et al.’s health system governance approach. Data were analysed using framework analysis in NVivo.

Results

Facilitative factors included the recent mental health care policy framework and national action plan that embraces integrated care using a task sharing model and provides policy imperatives for the establishment of district mental health teams to facilitate the development and implementation of district mental health care plans; the roll out of the integrated chronic disease service delivery platform that can be leveraged to increase access and resources as well as decrease stigma; and the presence of NGOs that can assist with service delivery. Challenges included the low prioritisation and stigmatisation of mental illness; weak managerial and planning capacity to develop and implement mental health care plans at provincial and district level; poor pre-service training of generalists in mental health care; weak orientation to integrated care; high staff turnover; weak intersectoral coordination; infrastructural constraints; and no dedicated mental health budget.

Conclusion

This study identifies strategies to support and improve integrated mental health care in primary health care services.

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