KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - “If you talk to the cupboard, no problem. But if the cupboard talks to you, come to me,” the late Psychotherapist, Dr. Taha Ba’ashar, once told a friend who complained to him that he would often discover that he was talking to a house object like a stubborn cupboard that refuses to open or close or a blunt knife that fails to cut something.
“Come to me!” This utterance would, in fact, give a summation of Dr. Ba’ashar’s long career of helping others in need. Farther than that, Dr. Ba’ashar had devoted most of his long medical career in taking his medical knowledge to the people wherever they lived in the vast country, the Sudan. So, instead of asking the people to come to him, as he did with his friend, he would always look for patients wherever they lived, opening mental clinics, tending to vulnerable communities and consulting traditional and spiritual healing.
Dr. Taha Ba’ashar was born in the Red Sea Port City of Port Sudan on 2 July 1922 and finished his early schooling in that region before graduating from the Kitchener Medical School (now the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum) in 1948, topping his classmates and clinching the prizes of autopsy, surgery and internal medicine. He was supposed to specialize in surgery, but, according to him, he wanted to study psychotherapy to “enjoy working with Dr.Tijani Almahi”, the father of Sudanese psychotherapy.
As a general physician he served in the hospitals of Khartoum, Meroe (north Sudan) and Malakal in south Sudan. During 1954-1956 he was dispatched to the University of London where he obtained a diploma in mental health. Later on he continued with his post-graduate education in England up to the doctorate degree. In 1960 he established the mental health clinic in Khartoum North which he later on coupled with a ward of mental health at the Khartoum Teaching Hospital. His idea for setting this ward was to make it easy for doctors in the Hospital to verify whether a patient’s ailment was psychological or physical before prescribing a treatment.
As senior consultant of psychological and neurological disorders he laid down programs for expanding psychological medicine, launching a network of mental health units in each of the outlying towns of Atbara, Wad Medani, Elobied, Kosti, Gedaref and Alfashir. He went even further by sponsoring a revolutionary plan to integrate mental health services in all primary health units around the country.
During 1972-1982, Prof. Ba’ashar served as WHO regional consultant for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, a post formerly occupied by his teacher and mentor, Prof. Altijani Almahi. In this capacity Dr. Ba’ashar presented tangible technical assistance to many of the Region’s countries in the domains of training. He also organized over eight conferences on mental health for the Region’s countries.
During 1982-1984 Dr. Ba’ashar was manager of the WHO program for consolidating mental health service in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, where he conducted a lot of field research on the situation of mental health in the region.
In 1985 Dr. Ba’ashar was appointed professor of psychological medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum. This had allowed to set and implement programs for teaching this medicine to medical cadres of different specializations. In collaboration with his colleagues and students he also set the principles for teaching mental health and for qualifying medical cadres on this science. Integrative syllabuses were worked out for teaching psychological medicine. As part of these programs, Dr Ba’ashar and his trainees conducted field visits to outlying areas around Khartoum, in a serious and pioneering endeavor to integrate psychological medicine with all other medical branches, wrote Professor Ahmed Alsafi in an article about Dr. Ba’ashar.
In this Dr.Ba’asha set a clinic within the medical unit attached to the Umdawwanban popular religious center that hosts and teaches the Koran and other religious subjects to thousands of students from around Sudan and abroad. The center also practiced spiritual healing (using the Koran) for patients with mental disorders. Dr. Ba’ashar’s move was most welcomed by the sheikhs (teachers) in charge of the center, because not all the cases reported to them were because of spiritual problems but, rather, required psychological treatment. Up to now a team of psychotherapists and social researchers pay weekly visits to the center (about 40 km East of Khartoum) to look into new cases referred to them by the sheikhs and to follow up cases already under medication.
Dr. Ba’ashar showed utmost concern for graduate studies in psychological medicine, often organizing international seminars and training courses for which he invited specialists from around the world to deliver lectures and conduct discussions with the local cadres.
Dr. Ba’ashar had presented 37 scientific papers at local, regional and international forums. He conducted a lot of studies on the history of psychological medicine and the effect of civilization, religion, folk culture and the social state of affairs on mental health. He wrote about family, mothers, children and psychological problems school students and homeless children face and about the psychological problems faced by the people of Nubia when they were relocated to Eastern Sudan as a result of the construction of the High Dam in Egypt that inundated their homeland in the 1960s.
He researched on the relationship between psychological health and bodily diseases in the Sudan and East Africa. He researched on depression, paranoia and suicides and took an insight into the drugs that affect mental capacities in general. He wrote about the gat (a mild narcotic), alcohol, smoking and sedatives giving important thoughts on how to tackle their effects and how to avoid addiction.
Dr. Ba’ashar was very much revered by the Sudanese for his knowledge and his good nature. This had prompted the political movement to name him minister of labor after the popular uprising that toppled the military rule of General Ibrahim Abbood in 1964.
He also obtained the fellowship of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists and received awards from the Arab League, the WHO and other organizations.
Dr. Ba’ashar died in hospital in Switzerland in 2008, aged 93 years.
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