American Initiative for Health and Wellness in Africa (aihwa) was founded as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization in the United States with the goal to provide mental health care to millions of Nigerians.
Statistics show that there is only 1 psychiatrist to 1 million Nigerians, illustrating a clear deficiency in the mental health workforce.
It is important to note that Nigeria currently has a population of almost 200 million people. The urgency for this initiative in providing mental health care services for Nigerian mental health patients became apparent with the rising epidemic of indiscriminate diagnosis of every possible mental illness as demonic possession by religious leaders. These leaders remain the first points of contact for patients with mental illnesses. These religious leaders neither know the differences between mental illness and demonic possession nor do they understand how and where to refer patients for mental health and primary care screening.
Fr. Kenny Udumka PhD, founder of aihwa, was in the middle of two opposing traditions with different interpretations of mental health signs: A Catholic Spiritan priest who is a professional mental health clinician, and a psychologist. Many Christians still believe that mental illness signifies demonic possessions, one’s separation from God, and sometimes a sign that someone is morally bankrupt. This traditional belief conflicts with the understanding of mental illness as biological, neurophysiological, learning, and developmental consequences. Consequently, many Nigerians with their deep religious heritage can easily moralize or demonize mental illness without any form of diagnosis.
In order to advocate for mentally ill patients in Nigeria and later in Africa at large, Fr. Kenny developed the idea of establishing a mental health center in Nigeria. This idea warranted the first visit of aihwa delegates from the United States to the Transcorp Hilton Abuja in Nigeria in 2016, where they held a conference with the heads of various health departments. This listening session was to ascertain the best way to approach mental illness in Nigeria in a manner where AIHWA’s efforts would be appreciated and patronized.
The team discovered that successful implementation of mental health care for Nigerians would not be possible without an integrated approach since people might have a fear of being stigmatized.
The outcome of the international listening conference and inauguration of AIHWA in Nigeria metamorphosed into a call to establish the first integrated medical clinic in Africa at the aihwa Hope Center, near Sam Mbakwe international Cargo airport Owerri.
Achievements of aihwa
aihwa hosted a free integrated medical mission in Nigeria, serving more than 1,300 patients in 2017. Read more in our aihwa 2017 mission newsletter.
aihwa hosted an integrated medical mission in Nigeria that benefitted more than 700 people in 2018. Read more in our aihwa 2018 mission newsletter.
Since 2016, aihwa has paid medical bills for more than 150 patients who could not afford to pay for their medial bills. This is critical for Nigerians who live in a culture where patients could be held in the hospital for days and weeks until all medical bills are paid. Learn more about aihwa's fight against the "patient prisoner" system.
Since 2017, AIHWA has been a member of the committee on non-communicable diseases at the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health at the invitation of the minister of health.
Construction of the aihwa Hope Center.