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Mental health: restoring hope, dignity and promote reconciliation in people

By SENIYA BANDA

Maria Akani  is one of the renowned Psychiatry medical practioners  with  vast experience in mental health in both clinical practice and teaching. 

She holds a Masters of Medicine in Psychiatry, an MSc in Clinical Neuropsychology, an MB(ChB) and a degree in Human Biology

Also founder and managing consultant of Renaissance – a mental health practice that company that provides services through psychiatry, psychotherapy, counselling and workshops.

Recently, she was awarded the Anakazi Banking Women of the Year Health Award for her transformational work in mental health in Zambia .

Also receiver of the Health Award for the ABSA Women in Business Awards.

In 2020, she was nominated for the Zambia Medical Association’s prestigious Mid-Career Outstanding Doctor’s Award.

Dr. Maria Akani has also managed to play a key role in the education sector by lecturing students at various institutions such as
the University of Zambia, Cavendish University, Lusaka Apex Medical University and Ndola School of Nursing.

Dr. Akani’s interest in mental health service development in Zambia can be seen through the initiative she showed in organizing annual mental health conferences (4th this year) in order to promote mental health education, research and collaboration and networking.

Q: Who is Maria Akani?

A: Maria Akani is a mother, wife , a skilled psychiatrist and neuropsychologist and the founder of Renaisense mental health facility 

Q: What inspired you to become medical doctor?

A: My inspiration to study medicine and psychiatry came from a deep desire to help people, and I found that mental health is a confluence of my talents, skills and natural abilities, my cousin Professor Sekelani Banda also contributed to my career choice.

Doctors specializing in mental healthcare were rare; at some point Zambia only had one qualified psychiatrist. It was this lack of adequate support to people suffering from mental health problems that led me to pursue this career.

At the age of 19 years old, I also experienced a mental problem, after  a certain experience which I managed to overcome , therefore this also played a critical role in taking up in a career  which also shaped as a person 

Q: How was your life growing up? 

A: My favourite years of growing up were definitely in medical school. I was never an ‘all work but no play’ person. I made friends, went to parties and I was even selected to be part of the leadership of the Christian students’ body. I really blossomed in medical school.”

Q: How has been your career Journey?

A: I love that through my job I can bring hope, restore dignity, facilitate change and promote reconciliation in people, it is fulfill to help people with different situations.

Q: What are some of the challenges  you face as medical personnel? 

A: The most difficult period for us was during the  covid 19 period where we had to deal with a number of the suicide cases but we have managed to handle, we even introduced online services  which was a breakthrough for us as Renaisense mental health.

And we discovered there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Every person and situation is different and brings new challenges. 

We have also continued trying to keep up-to-date with the latest research and interventions and modifying them to make them relevant to clients does present a challenge.

Another challenge, I faced when I had to leave formal employment to open up my own facility.  It   takes courage and encouragement from members of the family to pursue a business which is not an easy thing to do , but with Gold , it has worked out .

Dr. Maria Akani

Q:  WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

A: Although, having achieved a lot in my career, even running my  own practice, I feel the need to do more to enhance medical education in Zambia , there is a huge gap to fill  when it comes to delivery of  mental health services?

My dream, is also to change the landscape of mental health in Zambia into something that is considered basic care rather than an accessory medical service. I’m doing my part to help people realize that there can be no real health without sound mental health.

Q: What is your general asssessment of mental health in Zambia?

A: The is need to do more when it comes to  mental health in Zambia. There is need to  have a proper multi- disciplinary system   that will enhance the manner which mental health is handled in Zambia.

Currently, Zambia is just offering basic mental services which should not be the case in any developed system.

Q: How does it feel  to have many awards to your name including the Stanbic Anakazi Women of the year Awards?

A: Getting different awards  is a boost for me to continue working hard to increase mental health awareness and help people facing such challenges. This will also motivate me to do more. 

Q: What do you believe in as a person

A: I believe that mental wellness is not merely the absence of disease but the ability to exploit oneself and their abilities to full potential. This has been my inspiration for life coaching, mentorship and driving change.

I also believe in restoration of families and family values and the dignity and self-worth of the individual.

This article is supported with the WAN IFRA Women In News (WIN) Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI). Information in this article does not reflect the views of WAN IFRA Women In News 

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