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Candidate Astrid Berg
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President Elect Candidate

Astrid Berg MBChB (Pret), FFPsych (SA), MPhil (Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

 

Introduction

Astrid Berg is a Psychiatrist, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist as well as a Jungian Analyst. She is an Emerita A/Professor at the University of Cape Town and A/Professor Extraordinary at the Stellenbosch University. She is the founder of the Western Cape Association for Infant Mental Health and was for 18 years the lead consultant at the University of Cape Town’s Parent-Infant Mental Health Service.  For five years she served on the Health Sciences Committee of the National Research Foundation of South Africa. She currently consults to and teaches at two University affiliated hospitals and is co-convenor of the newly established M Phil degree in Infant Mental Health at Stellenbosch University. She supervises PhD and Masters’ Degrees in Infant Mental Health and is on the Executive Committee of the World Association for Infant Mental Health.

 


Nomination letter for WAIMH President-Elect position


I hereby submit my nomination for President-Elect to the Board of Directors of WAIMH.

My association with WAIMH started in 1996 when I attended the 6th World Congress in Tampere in Finland. I presented a poster which depicted the beginning of my Infant Mental Health work in an informal settlement near Cape Town. I have participated in every Congress since then. The depth and breadth in the various domains of research, clinical experience and advocacy that are presented at these Congresses is noteworthy. The equal validation given to each is, in my view, unique in the psychiatric and mental health field. 

In 1995 I organized the first Congress in IMH in South Africa, followed by a second national one in in 2002. In April 2012 the 13th WAIMH Conference was held in Cape Town – this was a particularly relevant one for South Africa, as it brought together colleagues from various disciplines who showed enthusiasm and commitment towards the mental health in the early years – it is an enthusiasm that has remained to the present day. 

My involvement with the WAIMH Board dates back to that Congress in 2012 when I was invited by the then President Miri Keren to join the Board as the President’s Executive at Large. I was subsequently elected onto Executive Committee in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. During this time I have come to understand the organization and administrative functioning of WAIMH. I have been impressed by the easy working together of the Board Members, and the lack of personal competitiveness. I think this may have to do with the fact that WAIMH is committed to the infant, and that the infant demands of us to act and behave in ways that, in the end, should make the world a better place.

During the past 5 years I have devoted my time to the establishment and the co-convening of the Master’s Programme for Infant Mental Health at Stellenbosch University. This is the first academic degree of its kind Africa, and has drawn students from a diverse professional, language and cultural background. In addition to this I have been actively participating on Provincial Government level in promoting the First 1000 Days Initiative. This has given me valuable insight into advocacy and primary health care interventions.

What is the role of WAIMH for the future?

The ground has shifted globally – never before in recent history has there been a situation of illness and death that has affected the whole world. Infants symbolize life, new beginnings and hope – now they are juxtaposed with the illness and death of their parents and grandparents.  How might they experience this? In South Africa we have had the experience of the HIV epidemic and its effects on young children who have been orphaned. The lessons learnt from this devastating time in our nation’s history may serve us well in the times that now lie ahead.

This Covid-19 pandemic affects our infants in ways that may not be that visible to health organizations. Separation and death in the family, depression and anxiety in the caregivers. WAIMH and its Affiliates needs to add to the public health awareness that this virus has a direct and significant impact on the mental lives of infants and children. While they may not in general succumb to the illness itself, they will suffer the most from its devastating consequences on the adults around them. We need to make public and to add to public health awareness the impact of this pandemic on the mental health of infants and young children; we need to give words to what the infants are living through, but not able to articulate.

WAIMH has already laid the foundation for such a mission

Under Miri Keren’s leadership an amended Infant Rights document has been accepted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In the full document the principles of Infant Rights are described and the social and health policy areas that are to be informed by these principles are outlined. All of the 7 principles are of direct relevance in the Covid-19 and post-Covid-19 era.

The outgoing President, Kai von Klitzing, took up a matter that required our urgent attention, namely the criteria for WAIMH membership, the rights and the responsibilities of WAIMH members. This resulted in direct consultation with the WAIMH Affiliate organizations. It is through strengthening our relationship with our Affiliates that we will be able to promote the mental wellbeing and healthy development of infants in the post- Covid world. 

Frequent, low-cost online meetings will become the new norm – an outcome of the pandemic that serves climate change and fiscal constraints well. These ways of interacting may lead to even closer collaboration than before, facilitating professional exchanges and distance learning, thereby transcending geographical boundaries and enhancing cultural and group diversity.

We have an enormous responsibility to our members and to infants worldwide, to work together, to be open to the ‘other’, realizing more than ever before our shared humanity – that we are all equally vulnerable.

I would very much look forward to working together with the incoming President, Campbell Paul, the Board of Directors and the WAIMH Office in Finland. I am a team player, and build on consensus and best interest of the infant and child.