How Toronto is helping Ethiopia build its mental health care
Dr. Yonas Baheretibeb, left, is the first chief resident and graduate of TAAPP, a partnership between Addis Ababa University and the University of Toronto. Founded by Dr. Clare Pain (right), TAAPP celebrated its 10th anniversary on Friday at Hart House. Jennifer Yang/Toronto Star
Ethiopia has 51 psychiatrists. This is a small number, especially when you consider the 92 million people they're supposed to serve.
But in 2003, there were only nine psychiatrists in the country – meaning their ranks have grown by 467 per cent in just one decade. This increase is particularly impressive for a country experiencing one of the worst brain drains in the world and on Friday, the number 51 was a cause for celebration amongst the Ethiopians and Canadians who helped make it happen.
On Friday morning, dozens of people gathered at the University of Toronto's Hart House to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of TAAPP, or the Toronto Addis Ababa Psychiatry Project, a partnership between Addis Ababa University and the University of Toronto.
The partnership helped create Ethiopia's first psychiatry residency program and more than 75 psychiatrists and residents from U of T have since travelled to Africa to mentor and teach students through TAAPP. Today, more than 40 Ethiopian psychiatrists have graduated from the program.
"All of this is possible because of the unreserved dedication of Canadian and Ethiopian psychiatrists," said Dr. Yonas Baheretibeb, TAAPP's first chief resident and graduate, who attended the anniversary event on Friday.
Many of TAAPP's graduates are now working in sites outside of the capital city Addis Ababa. This is important because roughly 85 per cent of Ethiopians live in rural areas.
"Most African countries – and in most western countries – a lot of psychiatrists tend to cluster around the capital," said TAAPP founder and U of T associate professor Dr. Clare Pain. "What I think is extraordinary is that so early in the life of psychiatry in Ethiopia, our new graduates were going out to start practicing psychiatry outside of the capital."
Even more remarkably, 95 per cent of TAAPP's graduates have decided to stay in the country – an impressive statistic given that some 80 per cent of Ethiopian students who travel abroad on scholarships never return.
"Our retention rate was a complete surprise, we hadn't anticipated that," Pain said. "It seems to me that supportive excellence in post-graduate training does keep people where they actually want to be, with their homes and their families."
TAAPP's success has inspired the formation of TAAAC, the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration, which celebrated its five-year anniversary on Friday. Using the same model pioneered by TAAPP, TAAAC is now helping Ethiopia build capacity in other medical specialties, as well as professions outside the health care field.
And neither program shows any sign of slowing down. On Friday, the Great Hall at Hart House burbled with excitement and ideas for the next decade ahead.
"This is a program that is in Ethiopia, for Ethiopia, by Ethiopia," said a proud Dr. Brian Hodges, a U of T psychiatry professor and TAAAC's steering committee chair. "With a little help from their Canadian friends."