REPORT: Bogura Federation’s mental health initiatives

Dr. David Pahan
Country Director, Lepra Bangladesh

Lepra Bangladesh has been working for persons affected by leprosy and prevention of disability in Bogura District, Bangladesh, since 2000, mainly through community awareness raising, early case detection, and fostering self-care practice and the formation of Self-Help Groups (SHGs). These SHGs united at the district level in 2014, and in 2017, the Bogura Federation received its formal registration as a Community Based Organisation (CBO). 

Bogura District Leprosy and Disability Development Association, also known as the Bogura Federation, was established in February 2014. The Federation is registered as a Community-Based Organisation (CBO) under the Government Social Welfare Department. It unites Bogura District’s 101 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and 12 Sub-District Federations for persons affected by leprosy, so that they can raise a common voice regarding their rights and entitlements. The Federation currently has 1030 members (474 male, 556 female), and it is also providing technical support to three other District Federations (Sirajganj, Pabna, and Natore) consisting of 300 SHGs with 3856 members.

Aiming for institutionalization of services

Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) frequently causes distress and anxiety in affected persons and their family members because of both direct impact on wellbeing and the stigma and prejudice associated with the disease. According to an advocacy brief prepared by the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NDTs) team of the World Health Organization, one in two people with leprosy or lymphatic filariasis experiences depression and/or anxiety. Thus, mental health conditions and NTDs are highly interdependent and often occur together.

Bogura Federation has valuable experience implementing mental health projects (Mental Motivator) in its working areas in 2018 to improve mental wellbeing among persons affected by leprosy and their family members. This year, the Federation has been implementing a project called “Mind to Heart,” supported by a grant from the Sasakawa Health Foundation, with the aim to institutionalize mental health initiatives for the greater interest of persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Institutionalization will increase accessibility and improve mental health care through establishing good referral linkage with other professional organizations and government institutes. 

Mind to Heart (M2H) started in February 2023 with three project staff and 12 volunteers called Mental Motivators. Since then, project staff have organized a project orientation workshop, a project monitoring meeting, and a meeting with Federation leaders. Project staff and all Mental Motivators have also received special counseling training from Professor Shaheen Islam from the Department of Educational & Counseling Psychology of Dhaka University. 

As part of the M2H project, 1200 people will receive awareness training on mental health issues; 800 persons affected by leprosy will benefit directly; and 150 persons with severe anxiety/depression will receive structured counseling by a professional counselor. A total of 30 persons (minimum expected) with severe anxiety/depression who require more specialized mental health support will be referred to a specialized institute. Bogura Federation leaders will also attend meetings at the national level for advocacy and networking with government officials and other important stakeholders.

Professor Shaheen Islam, Department of Educational & Counseling Psychology, University of Dhaka, facilitating mental health and counseling training for Mind to Heart (M2H) Mental Motivators and project staff (Bogura, Bangladesh, April 2023).