Professor Taha Ahmed Baasher

Professor Taha Ahmed Baasher Formerly Regional Advisor on Mental Health,World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Region Taha was born on 2 June 1922 in Sawakin, the historical Red Sea port in Sudan. He graduated from Kitchener School of Medicine, Khartoum, in 1949 with Distinction and a prize in anatomy. He worked as a general practitioner in various parts of Sudan. He was then granted a scholarship to study psychiatry at the Maudsley. In 1972 he was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. At the age of 35, Taha became Director of Mental Health, Ministry of Health, Sudan (1957-1972), succeeding the late Professor El-Tigani El-Mahi, the father of psychiatry in Black Africa. In 1960, Taha established a walk-in psychiatric outpatient clinic in Khartoum North. Between 1960 and 1968 he extended mental health services in Sudan, establishing four regional units. Against strong resistance by some senior clinicians from other disciplines, he managed, in 1965, to establish a psychiatric unit within Khartoum General (Teaching) Hospital, which became one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) collaborative research centres. In 1969, Taha became Minister of Health. He established El-Tigani El-Mahi Psychiatric Hospital in Omdurman, Khartoum province. Under his leadership Khartoum hosted the World Psychiatric Association Symposium 1966, and the Pan African Psychiatric Conference 1970. The WHO acknowledged his pioneering work that led to the notable achievement of winning cooperation of Islamic faith healers in Sudan, making it possible for people with mental illness to access the modern psychiatric services. As regional advisor on mental health (1972-82) he helped the 21 countries in WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region to develop their national mental health programmes. In 1985, he was invited by the University of Khartoum to take the chair in psychiatry, the post he held until 2007. In 1992, he chaired the council that established the Red Sea University in Eastern Sudan. Taha’s contributions were varied and vast. He was Vice President of the World Federation for Mental Health, member of the Executive Committee of the History of Psychiatry and the World Psychiatric Association, President of the Sudan Psychiatric Association and Secretary General of the Sudan Medical Association (now Sudanese Doctors’ Union). He was a member of the editorial board of the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, founding member of the Arab Board of Psychiatry, founding member of the Board of the Saudi Arabian DPM (1975) and winner of Arab Ministers’ of Health Prize for Outstanding Achievements (1985). In 1964, in his capacity as Secretary General for the Sudanese Doctors’ Union, he played a pivotal role in the October Revolution that toppled the military dictatorship. The popular forces elected him Secretary for the Trade Union Front that led the transition to full democracy. Taha passed away on 15 June 2008, during treatment in Geneva, and was buried in Khartoum. He is survived by his wife, Saydah, a practising consultant paediatrician, a son, Dr Rashid, and two daughters, Rawya and Ruaa. May God bless his soul.

Ahmed Sirag