Gov’t teams up with Johnson & Johnson to treat mental health

The deal includes patients suffering from schizophrenia being able to get drugs at only Rwf5,000 per dose down from Rwf30,000.
Minister Gashumba (L) and Paul Stoffels sign a partnership agreement on Transforming Mental Health Care in Rwanda. Nadege Imbabazi.

Mental health patients in Rwanda will access drugs at subsidised prices courtesy of a new partnership between the Government and Johnson & Johnson.

The American big-pharma yesterday signed a five-year deal with the Ministry of Health that will see prices slashed by up to 70 per cent.

The deal includes patients suffering from schizophrenia being able to get drugs at only Rwf5,000 per dose down from Rwf30,000.

The new treatment model will come into effect by September 2018.

Schizophrenia is described as chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. This is according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a US government agency.

According to Dr Diane Gashumba, Rwanda’s Minister for Health, schizophrenia accounts for the majority of patients lacking access to care and treatment. With the new Johnson & Johnson partnership, the related challenges will be addressed, she said.

Minister Gashumba pointed out that mental illness is still a significant health concern, taking into consideration that the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi not only claimed lives but also left large segments of the population suffering from mental disorders, specifically post traumatic disorder and depression.

According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), schizophrenia accounts for 26% of all mental health illness.

Dr Jean-Damascene Iyamuremye, the Director of Psychiatric Care at RBC, explained that the price of one dose of Risperdal (the modern drug for schizophrenia) has been prohibitive, but with the new Johnson & Johnson intervention, things are set to change.

“Risperdal was introduced 5 years ago.  In the beginning, one dose was at Rwf100,000 for patients without health insurance – they required three doses a year. It has since reduced to Rwf 30,000 but still many people would not afford it. Now, we expect the price to reduce up to Rwf5,000 thanks to this partnership,” Dr Iyamuremye said.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that mental illness affects 1 in 4 people globally and schizophrenia affects more than 21 million people worldwide.

More than 90% of people with untreated schizophrenia live in low and middle-income countries.

Paul Stoffels, the Johnson& Johnson Managing Director and Chief Scientific Officer, pointed out that mental health is a growing global challenge that is having a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities, especially in low –resource settings, and urgently needs their attention.

“With over 60 years of experience supporting those impacted by mental illness we are committed to expanding access to mental health care at the grassroots level,” he said.

Stoffels added that his organisation will work with the Government and other local partners to create a platform for the scaling up of Risperdal, a long-acting injectable used to treat patients with schizophrenia.

According to the Johnson & Johnson executive,  Risperdal has shown - in clinical studies - to remain effective longer than other antipsychotics drugs and delay relapse amongst patients with schizophrenia.

The partnership is also expected to address gaps in knowledge and understanding of mental illness in low-income settings.

Johnson & Johnson pledged to support an ongoing Government–initiated national mental health survey to determine the prevalence and burden of mental health disorders in Rwanda.

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