The Center for Health, Culture and Society (CHCS) has worked actively to scale up mental health services and research in Africa. For several years, a group of psychiatrists has met under the auspices of the International Council of the American Psychiatric Association and more recently under the aegis of the Committee for Global Health. In May 2009, during the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco, the core group of APA members was joined by our colleagues from Africa, the West Indies and Europe. These were individuals who have had some affiliation with or are interested in mental health in Africa. A consensus at that meeting was to strategically explore projects that would contribute to scaling up mental health services and research in Africa.

The need for mental health services in Africa is great. The resources are meager. The total population of sub-Saharan Africa is about 782.8 million people. It is reported that some African countries have no psychiatrists. A few may have one psychiatrist to 500,000 people or even more. International agencies such as: the World Health Organization, the World Psychiatric Association, the World Federation of Mental Health, and NGO's contribute in significant ways to provide relief against almost insurmountable obstacles. These obstacles include: economical and political strife, drought and famine, stigma, financial mismanagement, illiteracy, low man power and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria.

The expansion of mental health services and research in Africa simultaneously presents challenges and opportunities for psychiatrists and other mental health workers to make substantial contribution. While HIV/AIDs and their mental health concomitants have been prominent, there are other areas of mental health that require attention. In discussions with our African colleagues, areas frequently mentioned for attention include: child mental health, mental health policy, substance abuse and addictions.