Dr Juliet Nakku: Promoting better mental health services

One of the agendas of the current government is to empower women and see to it that they are part of those that sit in board rooms to make decisions that change society. One of such women is Dr Juliet Nakku, who as of June 2022 became the first female President of African Association of the Psychiatrists (AAP) after becoming president-elect in 2019. She is also the elected member of the Board of the World Psychiatric Association.

Who is Dr Nakku?

I am a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Deputy Executive Director of Butabika National Referral Hospital. I also I am a lecturer for Makerere University College of Health Sciences’ Department of Psychiatry. In that regard, I am heavily involved in training the future human resources for mental health for Uganda. In the same training line, I am involved in the management of mental health training school. I am a member of the governing council of the Butabika Nurses training school where I chair the development subcommittee. Before this, I served on the governing council of the Psychiatric Clinical Officers’ training school at Butabika for 6 years.

I am also a wife and mother of three adolescent children. I love God and I am an active participant in our local church in Kiwatule. Until 2018, I was in the leadership of the Mother’s Union at our church for 8 years but stepped down to give an opportunity for others to lead.

How long have you been a mental health practitioner?

I have worked in mental health since 1997, starting off as a young medical officer. I did my specialist training (Masters in Psychiatry) at Makerere University College of Health Sciences from 2000-2003 before I got a scholarship to do a post-graduate clinical fellowship in 2006 at McMaster University in Canada. I returned in 2007 to work as a medical officer special grade in Psychiatry at Butabika Hospital before I was promoted from consultant to senior consultant and now Deputy Executive Director. It has been a long and rewarding journey of training and service.

What are your achievements so far?

As a clinician, I have treated very many patients as anyone would expect. I have also taught a lot of students. I also continue to mentor young health professionals in mental health care and this includes, not only psychiatrists but clinical officers and nurses as well. 

For the last decade, I have done focused collaborative research that contributes to the operationalisation of government policies, mainly in the areas of care for pregnant and postpartum mothers, with mental health problems as well as in methods of integrating mental health into primary care and maternity settings. This work is now ready for dissemination.

I was the first to teach a module of psychiatry in women of childbearing age at Makerere’s Department of Psychiatry. I still teach it but am currently mentoring other psychiatrists in this important area of work because it touches on the wellbeing of a mother and affects pregnancy and infant outcomes, the very issues that government is currently concerned about.

I have been at the helm of service development at Butabika Hospital where I led the organisation and eventual start of private mental health services in a public psychiatric hospital. Previously, it was unheard of and people asked questions whether the mentally ill also needed private facilities. I have also been at the helm of developing Electroencephalography (EEG) services for Epilepsy at the hospital. For a long time, there were no public EEG services in public health facilities in the whole country. But these are now available at Butabika Hospital and a few more may be coming up.

Future prospects

Mental health is a growing area in Uganda. However, the mental health of women, especially during pregnancy and after birth has not had the attention it deserves as this is an issue that significantly affects both mothers and their infants before and after delivery. I would therefore like to see the growth of specialised maternal mental health care in Uganda and that is my mission going forward.