WHO regional boss on mental health issues
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The World Health organization's regional director for Africa, Dr Luis G Sambo, has called for the redoubling of efforts in the provision of mental health services, especially in poor countries. Dr Sambo's message was contained in a pre-recorded statement delivered on his behalf by the WHO country representative to The Gambia, and sent to the Daily Observer in the form of a press release; in commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2008.
In it, Dr Sambo described the annual commemoration, dating back to 1948, as a 'shining example of the partnership between the World Federation for Mental Health and the World Health Organisation'.
He sought to underline the importance of this year's commemoration as it comes at a time when other events such as the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the World Federation for Mental Health; the implementation of activities marking 30 years of the 1978 Alma-Ata Conference which led to the Alma-Ata Declaration of Primary Health Care and the launch by the WHO director general, in Geneva, a couple of days ago, of mental health Gap (mhGAP), a programme designed to address the failings of mental health services in resource-poor countries.
The lack of data gathered on a wide scale, country and regional surveys and studies as well as projections based on global data, the WHO regional director went on, indicate that the situation in our region deserves special attention. He thus called for more efforts at all levels.
"The truth is that the number of people suffering from mental health, neurological or substance abuse-related disorders in the WHO African region, continues to increase," he said. Dr Sambo noted that the increase is due to numerous factors, pointing to the consequences of infectious parasites or nutrition-related diseases and risk factors such as the harmful use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs, on the one hand, and lasting psychological traumas resulting from disasters, wars and extreme poverty, on the other.
According to Dr Sambo, the populations' limited access to health centres delays the diagnosis and care that they may need, thereby worsening the extent to which these problems affect their health in general and their mental health in particular. He said that an estimated 10 million people suffer from epilepsy; more than 34 million people use cannabis; 25% to 30% of all hospitalisations in some countries that have statistics are caused, directly or indirectly, by alcohol use.
This year's theme for World Mental Health commemoration is: 'Making mental health a global priority: scaling up services through citizen advocacy and action'. This, the head of WHO's Africa region noted, fits into the concerns of the world health organisation in general and its regional office in particular. He stressed that despite the adoption of resolutions, at the global and regional levels, inviting member states to consider psychosocial and mental health issues as crucial to the balance and the health of individuals and groups, people suffering from mental, neurological and substance abuse-related disorders continue to be victims of stigmatisation and rejection, while their basic rights are violated.
Dr Sambo called on all to remember that health improvement requires the involvement of everyone; governors, communities, families, users of health services and researchers. He urged the leaders of all member states of the region to deliver on the commitments made in Abuja by allocating to health the share of the budget needed to address health problems in general and mental health problems in particular, based on appropriate situation analyses. He stated that the WHO would continue to provide the technical support required to back-up efforts to improve the mental health of all categories of people, singling out 'the most vulnerable'.
Dr Sambo's message concluded by stressing that 'everyone has a role to play', noting that it is essential to keep up the effort to promote mental health and protect fundamental human rights; that there was the urgent need to identify the gaps and give the largest number of mental health patients access to quality care, provided in appropriate, humanised services or in the community.
'There is need for action today, here, now and everyday. As reflected in the vision of African traditional medicine and supported by the formal evidence: there is no health without mental health. We should endeavour to safeguard the advance we initially made in our understanding of comprehensive health that requires comprehensive care,' Dr Sambo said.