Improving access to psychotropic medicines in low- and middle-income countries

A new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers suggests certain changes to mental health systems in low- and middle-income countries may improve availability and affordability of psychotropic medicines. Those changes include broadening mental health legislation, increased financing, and other measures. Psychotropic medications are used to treat severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.

Neuropsychiatric conditions make up 14% of the global burden of disease and almost 30% of all noncommunicable disease, the authors state. Despite the existence of psychotropic medications and other cost-effective interventions, as many as 85% of people are untreated in low- and middle-income countries. Access to these medications varies by country.

“While medicines are not a cure-all, they represent an important piece of the puzzle in getting people the care they need. Governments can recognize this fact by making their health systems more responsive”, said Ryan McBain, D.S. candidate at HSPH, lead author of the study. Other authors include researchers from the World Health Organization and Boston University. Theresa Betancourt, assistant professor of child health and human rights at HSPH, was senior author.

The study, “The Role of Health Systems Factors in Facilitating Access to Psychotropic Medicines: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the WHO-AIMS in 63 Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” appears in the January 2012 edition of PLoS Medicine. According to the authors, it is the first study to investigate health system factors as possible causes for the lack of mental health treatment across low- and middle-income countries.

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Department of Global Health and Population