The proportion of people with mental illness who access mental health care is very low in sub-Saharan Africa. A major contributing factor is stigma and discrimination towards people with these conditions. Difu Simo is a mental health awareness campaign which is being conducted in Kilifi County along the Kenyan Coast. The campaign is funded by the Wellcome Trust as a collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute|Wellcome Trust Programme, the Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa and the Malindi District Cultural Association.
The campaign slogan “Difu Simo”, is a Kigiryama phrase which means “Breaking free”. The project involves use of participatory approaches, film and art in the form of music, dance and poems to sensitize the public about mental illness. Difu Simo aims to improve knowledge about mental illnesses, reduce stigma towards people with mental illnesses to encourage them to seek health care and bring the worlds of biomedical treatment and traditional healing in dialogue about a holistic approach to treat and re-integrate people with mental health problems back into the community and live healthy lives.
The awareness activities of the Difu Simo project are conducted in a specified area in Kilifi County called the Kilifi Health and demographic Surveillance System (KHDSS). This area was demarcated by researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in the year 2000 and it comprises about 280,000 residents of Kilifi County. The area was selected to capture majority of patients admitted to Kilifi County Hospital. More details of the KHDSS Review Unit can be found here.
The project activities are evaluated through measurement change in key measures of stigma including knowledge, attitude, and behaviour. Research members from the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust also evaluate the changes in proportion of people seeking care at hospitals within and outside the KHDSS. Ethical approval to conduct the research activities was sought from the Scientific Ethical and Review Unit of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.