The Geneva Prize for Human Rights in Psychiatry 2021 is awarded to M Gregoire 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.
The 2021 Prize was supported by the Republic and Canton of Geneva and by the Swiss Medical Federation of Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists.