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History of TAAPP in Ethiopia

The summary and history of TAAPP was provided by Dr. Clare Pain, University of Toronto.

Ethiopia, situated in the horn of Africa, has a population of approximately 77 million people.  Up until 2006 there were only 10 practicing psychiatrists in the country, all of whom had been trained abroad, and three of whom are on faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Addis Ababa University.  The necessity for more psychiatrists has been recognized for the last 10 years and due to the remarkable ability, energy and determination of our Ethiopian colleagues, the psychiatry residency program opened in January 2003 to seven incoming residents. 

The Toronto Addis Ababa Psychiatry Project (TAAPP) was created to meet the educational needs of this new three-year training program as well as the need of the Department of Psychiatry in Toronto, Canada, to develop international educational outreach expertise.  The letter of agreement between the two Universities was signed in the summer of 2003, and the first University of Toronto educational visit took place in November 2003.  Currently the residency training program has completed its third year, with 7 residents graduating and 15 Ethiopian psychiatry residents registered. 

TAAPP was charged with bringing an academic curriculum of contextually relevant seminar and clinical material from the University of Toronto to teach to the residents in Addis Ababa.  This curriculum was based on the needs of the new program and devised sequentially with each educational trip, flexibly pre-negotiated between the two departments and organized to include time for on-site clinical supervision of the Ethiopian psychiatry residents by the Toronto team.  The supervised observations of patient care by the Toronto teams take place in the psychiatric wards, clinics and emergency department in Addis Ababa.

From November 2003 until July 2006, TAAPP has recruited and put together nine teaching teams, each one consisting of two University of Toronto psychiatric faculty and one University of Toronto psychiatry resident.  Each team has visited Addis Ababa for a one-month period: there have been three trips a year. 

At the end of three years, TAAPP has been experienced as sufficiently successful by both Departments of Psychiatry to expand the original mission to a TAAPP Phase Two.  This will extend TAAPP for a further three years (for a total of 6 years) and have two goals.  First, it will continue to supplement the residency training as originally negotiated for TAAPP Phase One, but provide two not three educational trips a year.   Second, it will enable three new faculty members, drawn from the graduating Ethiopian residents, to acquire postgraduate training as leaders and educators in their profession.  This component of Phase Two will train the new faculty both in-country and out-of-country.  The new junior faculty members will work closely with visiting University of Toronto faculty to develop and teach the Addis residents for a month twice a year as their in-country training.  Each new junior faculty member will travel, in turn, to Toronto for a 6 month educational block at the University of Toronto.   This out-of-country module will aim to promote clinical training in the specialty areas of their choice, and will focus as well on the theory and skills involved in research, leadership, teaching and advocacy appropriate to the predicted needs of Ethiopia for psychiatry.

A further development following the successful involvement of TAAPP in the psychiatry residency training program has been a recognition and exploration of the Ethiopian psychiatric nursing needs.  The University of Toronto nursing program has been requested to develop a similar project with the Addis Ababa Psychiatric Nursing Program to train B.Sc Psychiatry nurses and to assist the current psychiatric nurses to explore a nursing role expansion.  A preliminary visit to set this up was undertaken in October 2005 and the first nurses’ training trip is underway in July 2006.

History of Mental Illness in Ethiopia

This description has been taken from excerpts of “Pathways to Psychiatric Care in Ethiopia” by Dr. Yilma Yitayew Bekele, MD, FCPsych (SA).  This is his dissertation submitted to the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, September, 2005  The aim of Dr. Yilma Yitayew Bekele’s dissertation is to describe the routes taken by patients to reach to psychiatric care in Ethiopia, and to investigate the factors that may contribute to delays on the pathway to care.

“Ethiopia is among the poorest countries in Africa.  Basic health service coverage is about 48.5%.  There are 10 psychiatrists and 122 psychiatric nurses in the country.  This gives a psychiatrist to population ratio of 1:5,600,000, and psychiatric nurse to population ratio of 1:459,016.  All psychiatrists are based in Addis Ababa; therefore, patients travel several hundreds of kilometres from their homes to find treatment there. Local people often seek care from local healers, but there is no working relationship between them and mental health services in the country.

In the Ethiopian setting, health is defined as a state of equilibrium among the physiological, spiritual, cosmological, ecological, and social forces surrounding man (Vecchiato 1993). Traditionally, mental illness has been attributed to supernatural forces such as spirits which enter a person's body, or the shadow cast by an evil eye (Alem et al. 1993; Araya and Aboud 1993). Modern psychiatric services are also very scarce, inaccessible, and relatively expensive to the majority of the population. Therefore most people go to priests, magicians, sorcerers and traditional healers to seek treatment for mental illness (Alem et al. 1993; Araya & Aboud 1993; Giel et al. 1968). Patients usually resort to modern mental health care service only after they tried and failed with all possible traditional treatments. It is also a common practice in Ethiopia to care for and provide support to the mentally ill by family members at home (Araya & Aboud 1993).

Perhaps differing beliefs about cause and treatment of mental illness, help seeking behaviour, fear of stigma, acceptability of psychiatric service and lack of awareness of the existence of psychiatric service in the country could also be some of the factors contributing to delay in help seeking.

At the psychiatric service; 42.5% of the study population received a diagnosis of Schizophrenia/ other psychotic disorders, 18.0% Epilepsy, 16.0% mood disorder, 10.1% Anxiety/ somatoform disorder, 6.3% physical problem, 2.9% cognitive disorder, 2.3% substance use disorders and 1.9% of the patients did not have their diagnosis confirmed.

Patients who presented to their first carer with problems of fits/altered level of consciousness, and who subsequently received the diagnosis of epilepsy at the psychiatric service are the ones who experienced the longest delay along the pathway to care. The deep seated cultural belief among most Ethiopians that epilepsy, and for that matter any kind of mental illness, is caused by evil spirits or some form of supernatural force could be one of the major barriers for seeking early psychiatric treatment.”


1.  Alem A, J.L., Argaw M, Traditional perceptions and treatment of mental disorders in central Ethiopia, in Year book of Cross-cultural Medicine and Psychopathology. 1993. p. 105-119.
2.  Araya M, A.F., Mental illness, in The Ecology of Health and Diseases in Ethiopia, K.H.a.Z. ZA, Editor. 1993, Boulder: West view press, Inc.
3.  Giel R, G.Y., Van Luijk JN, Psychiatric morbidity in 200 Ethiopian medical outpatients. Psychiat Neurol Neurochir, 1968. 71: p. 169-176.
4.  Giel R, G.Y., Van Luijk JN, Faith healing and spirit possession in Ghion, Ethiopia. Soc. Sci. and Med, 1968. 2: p. 63-79.
5.  Vecchiato, N., Traditional medicine, in The Ecology of Health and Disease in Ethiopia, K.H.a.Z. ZA, Editor. 1993, Boulder: West view press, Inc. p. 157-178.


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