The Geneva Prize for Human Rights in Psychiatry is intended to acknowledge an individual (with no restriction as to gender, age or nationality), or an institution or association (with governmental or non-governmental status) for exceptional achievement at regional, national or international level in:
Promoting equity and humane qualities of care for people with mental illness
Reducing negative discrimination of the mentally ill
Defending the rights of people with mental illness, and supporting the application of ethical principles in psychiatric services.
The Prize, consisting of a diploma and a monetary award of 20,000 Swiss Francs, is awarded once every three years, during the World Congress of Psychiatry and the Prize is funded by the Republic & Canton of Geneva (Switzerland) through the Geneva University Hospital, by the Swiss Federation of Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists, by the members of the Geneva Medical Association (AMGE), and by other donors.
This year’s award was presented back in August during the 21st World Congress of Psychiatry. On August 23, the international jury chaired by Prof Marianne Kastrup met in Geneva and the prize was awarded to Grégoire Ahongbonon.
Grégoire Ahongbonon, born in Benin, is the founder of the Association St Camille-de-Lellis, a comprehensive care system in West Africa. He opened a small tire repair business that went bankrupt and fell ill with depression. After recovering, Grégoire Ahongbonon decided with his spouse Léontine, to help mentally disturbed persons wandering the streets. He then began working with families and the community elders in the villages to provide care and support mentally ill people chained because of their illness. He has incessantly fought the prejudice and stigma surrounding mental illness. He has worked on family and public awareness to spread the idea that mental illness could be cured, and that ill people could be treated without chaining them to trees or subjecting them to atrocities.
In the years since 2003, he has transformed the mental health care in Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast by finding ways to offer people with mental illness treatment accommodation, food, work and/or training. Many of the recovered have subsequently become engaged in the work of the Association as peer helpers. The system of care has proven affordable and adapted to its environment, respectful of human dignity and compliant with World Health Organization requirements. Supported by Missionary communities, philanthropic organizations and NGO’s, the Association has grown into an international network.
What is extraordinary is that Grégoire Ahongbonon, with no training in medicine or psychiatry developed this system, solely based on his personal observations and his great humanity: he could not bear to see the mentally ill being mistreated. It seems obvious that this candidate meets the criteria set for the Prize because of his personal commitment over many years, his work to help people with mental illness and to defend their human rights. He did all this work with the continuous support provided by his spouse bestowed by a special mention by the jury of the Foundation.
Author: François Ferrero, President of the Council of Foundation