16 July 2012, Dhaka. BRAC has organized a national conference on “Peri-natal Mental Health: Breaking the Vicious Cycle” at BRAC Centre Auditorium on Monday, July 16, 2012. Ms. Akhtari Mamtaz, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was present as a Special Guest. The conference was based on a research that rendered first of its kind findings in Bangladesh on strong associations between peri-natal mental health and underweight babies, infant mortality and stunting – conditions that may lead to other major health problems even in adulthood. Ms. Mamtaz said: “The Government of Bangladesh is working on improving maternal and child health in Bangladesh through the Director General of Health Services and Directorate of Family Planning. Unfortunately, we have not been able to address the peri-natal mental health issue specifically. With the help of NGOs, International organizations and various other stakeholders, we should be able to improve the maternal depression situation of Bangladesh for the interest of a better nation” .
Dr. Hashima-E-Nasreen, BRAC, Dr. Maigun Edhborg, Senior Lecturer and Dr. Zarina Nahar Kabir, Associate Professor, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and Dr. Jena Hamadani, Scientist, ICDDR,B presented papers on maternal depression and its relation to intimate partner violence and its impact on mother-infant bonding and child development. In the keynote paper, Dr. Neerja Chowdhury, Consultant Psychiatrist, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK and Sangath , India highlighted the public health importance of maternal depression. She mentioned in her presentation -“The high prevalence of peri-natal depression has consequences – it can increase mortality in women through suicide, it can have a negative impact on child growth, and it can have even other health implications. So, in fact, if we are treating maternal depression, we are not just improving maternal mental health, we are improving child growth with having these other benefits too”.
Dr. Sadia Afroze Chowdhury, Public Health Specialist, the World Bank, Washington DC, USA has chaired the conference. In her concluding remark, Ms. Chowdhury stated “we have learned the reasons and the long lasting impact of maternal depression throughout the presentations, and now it’s time to take policy initiatives to improve the overall situation”. This conference has provided a platform for researchers, practitioners and policy makers to share knowledge and ideas on improving and mainstreaming peri-natal mental health in public health.