By Abdul Malik Bangura
Dr Abdul Jalloh, whom some say is a calm and committed personality is Sierra Leone’s New Specialist Psychiatrist and Psychiatrist in Charge/Hospital Care Manager at the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, has indeed proven to be the new face in changing and rebranding mental health in the country.
The 2017 AWOL Medical Practitioner of the Year has changed the narrative of mental health in Sierra Leone. This is since after completing his psychiatry training in Kenya, he decided to return to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in January 2017 as a Specialist Psychiatrist and Psychiatrist in charge/Hospital Care Manager at the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital.
Dr Jalloh has greatly influenced psychiatric trainings throughout Sierra Leone by raising mental health awareness and advocating for the rights of mentally challenged people on radio and television, and most importantly, his innovations have improved patient’s care in the hospital.
Dr Jalloh is a graduate with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBChB) from the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS). During his undergraduate Year four and six training, he did clinical rotations in Psychiatry at the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, under the auspice of Dr Edward Nahim.
In 2008, he did a six (6) weeks clinical elective placement in psychiatry at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Wales. During his professional career as a Medical Practitioner, he worked in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation as a House Officer, later as a Medical Officer rotating in different specialities. After his internship, he requested to be posted to the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital, not just to support Dr Nahim, but also to deepen his knowledge in this critical but neglected area of medicine in Sierra Leone. Also, whenever he goes to the UK, the dynamic Medical Doctor conducts observership in different mental health facilities to broaden his knowledge and skills in mental health related issues.
Dr Jalloh actively pursued his interest in Psychiatry. In 2012, he did a two (2) weeks training on Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
In September 2013, Dr Jalloh was admitted into Master of Medicine in Psychiatry residency programme at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, which he completed in December 2016 with full sponsorship from the Government of Sierra Leone. During his Psychiatry training, he was the only Registrar from Kenya and the first from Sierra Leone to be offered clinical placement in Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences in collaboration with the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and King’s College London. As a result of this attachment, he was registered as a Volunteer in the Royal College of Psychiatrists with full sponsorship.
As part of his training in psychiatry, Dr Jalloh worked at the Mathari National Referral and Teaching Hospital and the Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya. Also, he was teaching medical students, sharing knowledge and skills with colleagues and sponsored by the Kenyan Psychiatrists Association, World Psychiatrist Association and Pharmaceutical companies in Kenya to attend conferences locally and internationally. This Psychiatry training enriched his experience in diverse areas of psychiatry. Dr Jalloh was among the best in his class.
Dr Jalloh is also a Lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone.
Dr Jalloh worked with the World Health Organisation, to train Community Health Officers on Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) to recognise and treat common mental disorders in Sierra Leone.
Dr Jalloh has participated in severe trainings/workshops/conferences both internationally as a delegate and a presenter in conferences such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Biological Psychiatry Congress and World Psychiatrist Association. Dr Jalloh was among the twenty young psychiatrists in the world awarded by the South African Society of Psychiatrists Early Career Researchers award in 2017 to present his study conducted in Sierra Leone.
In 2019, Dr Jalloh was awarded the 2019 International Divisions’ ward for demonstrating his commitment to psychiatry by the Royal College of Psychiatrist (RCPsych) African Division.
Dr Jalloh is an active member of the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA), Member of the American Psychiatrists Association (APA), Member World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), and International Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), Member of the European Psychiatrists Association (EPA), Member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP), National Coordinator-International Consortium of Universities on Drug Demand Reduction (ICUDDR), Focal point- West African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (WENDU) and Pan-African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use. Presently his is the Finance Officer for the Royal College of Psychiatrist (RCPsych) African Division.
According to report published by the Sierra Leone Psychiatric Teaching Hospital (SLPTH), the hospital it is believed, attained its current status quite recently after thriving for a century and over as an asylum and then to a mental hospital.
Currently, the SLPTH is the premiere facility in the country that caters for the admission and out-patient treatments of people with mental health challenges. It was established in 1820 as an asylum for captives in colonial era. It is regarded as the oldest psychiatric hospital in the Sub-region.
It is a tertiary hospital in the University of Sierra Leone Teaching Hospitals Complex undergoing renovation for accreditation from the West African College of Physicians for future generations of mental health professionals to be trained in Sierra Leone.
Dr Jalloh is on record to have brought development to a hospital that is supposed to provide holistic mental health treatment circle for patients, but the past realities were in contrast with the Ministry of Health core operational aspirations. This was a hospital with lot of challenges such as vulnerable shared facilities with non-functional toilets, no water supply, no medications, no temperature control drug storage, limited electricity, broken windows-exposing patients to external environmental hazards and infection. Patients were using rubber containers as a substitute to lavatory. The debris of the dilapidated facility exposed patients to life threatening objects. Low and broken perimeter fence with bushy compound making it seamless for patients to escape the hospital and take advantage of the loop to abuse drugs and commit violence in the community.
With Dr Jalloh’s advocacy and good leadership, he was able to established a strong partnership between the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and NGOs (Partners in Health and Handicap International). The entire hospital is systematically refurbished to a modern mental health facility for efficient health care delivery and also for meeting training/academic goals of this health care institution. Dr Jalloh envisaged a mental health care facility where every citizen will be treated in a therapeutic environment and be the best in the sub-region.
Presently there is a laudable ongoing infrastructural development in the facility, giving a facelift to its outlook with a new administrative building.
In addition, a number of wards have been renovated by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation with support from Partners in Health (PIH) with tiled floors, improved toilet, new beds and lighting systems, fans for ventilation and plasma televisions installed.
A modernized lecture hall with a semi conference room with a library has been reconstructed by PIH. This aligns with efforts to optimize trainings and medical education within the facility.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation with support from Partners in Health (PI H) have completed rehabilitating the Laboratory building that will be stocked with equipment (Analyzers), Reagents, Consumables and office materials.
A Recreational Centre (Occupational Therapy Unit) has also been constructed by PIH and Handicap International with a pavilion, basketball and hand tennis courts and also equipped with sewing machines, musical instruments, and various indoor games.
In October 2020, Sierra Leone will be celebrating 200 years of mental Health with a fully equipped modernized psychiatric Teaching Hospital.
Dr Jalloh has core of his vision to decentralize mental health services and integrate its services into all levels of health care (primary, secondary and tertiary) in Sierra Leone.