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Suicide levels in Malawi and Kenya rocket as pandemic bites

Suicides have surged in Malawi and Kenya with a 72% surge in the first quarter in Malawi and more suicides in Kenya in the second quarter than in the whole of 2020, writes MedicalBrief.

Malawi registered a 72% rise in suicides between January and March 2021. The Connect Plus Resource Institute, which promotes mental health, says the alarming surge coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nyasa Times reports that CEO Dennis Mwafulirwa has called for urgent action to address the problem. “During the pandemic, we've seen an increase in conversations around mental health. We need to encourage this conversation, and the one around suicide,” he said.

Malawi has launched its first ever Suicide Prevention Week and it observes World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September every year.

Suicide mortality rate (per 100,000 population) in Malawi was reported at 3.7% in 2016 by the World Bank.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. About half of the population are below the poverty line, with 20% described as “extremely poor”.

Betchani Tchereni, a lecturer in economics at the University of Malawi, says unemployment is a big factor.

“With the COVID-19 issue, you will find that some people have lost their jobs. Think about the numbers, 270,000 person losing jobs. That is translating to about 2.7 million people being in trouble because one job in Malawi serves about 10 people per household. So, if they lose hope and enter into depression, it leads to a worst scenario of suicides being committed,” Tchereni said.

In Kenya, there has been a similar surge. Almost 500 people are reported to have killed themselves in the three months to June this year, more than the whole of 2020, according to the Kenyan police, reported in The Guardian.

Last year the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) said 1,442 Kenyans attempted suicide between 2015 and 2018, which it said were conservative figures as only a fraction of cases were reported.

The organisation linked the rise in cases to mental ill-health caused by a breakdown in socio-economic safeguards, saying it was the “last resort and path of escape for individuals with unaddressed mental health needs”.

“Research has shown that structural determinants of mental ill-health such as extreme poverty, lack of access to empowerment opportunities and discrimination increase the likelihood of individuals committing suicide,” the KNHCR said.

“Unfortunately, suicide prevention measures in Kenya have often failed to address these root causes and instead incorporated fewer effective approaches, including punitive measures.”

Data from the World Bank puts suicide mortality rates in Kenya at 6.1 people in every 100,000, with men being in the highest risk category, with 9.1 men in every 100,000 affected.

The KNCHR report said efforts to address the root causes of suicide were hampered by the criminalisation of attempted suicide.

Section 226 of Kenya’s penal code says “any person who attempts to kill himself [sic] is guilty of a misdemeanour”, which the human rights body likened to “re-victimisation of already vulnerable victims” while placing those already socially and economically vulnerable people at even greater disadvantage.

 

Nyasa Times article – Malawi registered 72% rise in suicide deaths between January and March 2021—Police (Open access)

 

Full The Guardian article – Concern grows in Kenya after alarming rise in suicide cases (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

SA has higher suicide mortality that most of Africa – IRR

 

Religious attendance link to lower risk of 'deaths of despair' for health workers

 

Suicide rates rise sharply in COVID-19's second wave — Japan Health ministry data

 

 

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