WHO South-East Asia Region commits to universal access to people-centered mental health care, services

6 September, 2022 | Vaishali Sharma

WHO Health

Member nations of the WHO South-East Asia Region endorsed the Paro Declaration on Tuesday to promote mental health in the region, agreeing to universal access to people-centered mental health care ...

Member nations of the WHO South-East Asia Region endorsed the Paro Declaration on Tuesday to promote mental health in the region, agreeing to universal access to people-centered mental health care and services.

“There is no health without mental health. Increasing investments in mental health, including for preventive and promotive services at the primary care level, reduces treatment costs and increases productivity, employment and quality of life,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region.

The Paro Declaration was adopted on day two of the current Seventy-Fifth Session of the WHO South-East Asia Regional Committee Session during the Ministerial Roundtable on tackling mental health via primary care and community involvement.

“The Declaration urges Member countries to develop and implement multisectoral policies across the life-course to address mental health risks and reduce treatment gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that mental health services reach all those in need, close to where they live, without financial hardship,” the Regional Director said.

Member nations committed to create country-specific objectives to attain universal primary care-oriented mental health services and to incorporate mental health in policy formulation, implementation, and assessment as part of the Declaration.

The Paro Declaration also calls for increased funding for community-based mental health networks, as well as continuous supply of medicines and rehabilitation, including occupational therapy, for everyone who needs it, as well as improved data collection and reporting, research implementation, and performance monitoring to ensure context-sensitive improvement of mental health systems.

In the South-East Asia Region, one in every seven persons suffers from a mental illness. Personal and economic distress and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have widened the gaps in addressing mental health challenges, such as a lack of human resources, low investment, stigma, insufficient prevention and promotion programmes, a lack of data, and a lack of services in primary care settings.

The Declaration urges the establishment of evidence-based and rights-based community mental health networks, as well as systematic planning for the deinstitutionalization of care for persons with severe mental illnesses, to provide an effective and complete response to mental health needs.

Member countries are committed to prioritising fiscal space for health and universal health coverage, ensuring appropriate investment in basic and secondary mental health services, and mobilising extra resources in collaboration with local and international stakeholders.

The cornerstone for providing mental health services and progress toward UHC, the health-related Sustainable Development Goals, and the WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 is strengthening the capacity of the primary health care system.

Member countries are committed to increasing the number of specialised and non-specialized mental health workers by identifying new cadres of healthcare personnel who are specially trained, equipped, and skilled for the delivery of mental health services at the primary care level and work as members of multidisciplinary teams within the health sector.

Persons with lived experience, as well as community empowerment and active involvement, contribute to minimise stigma and prejudice towards people with mental illnesses, their family members, and caregivers.

Strengthening preventive and promotion programmes at the national and subnational levels contributes to overall well-being by tackling suicide and self-harm, substance use, hazardous digital entertainment consumption, bullying, and parenting concerns. Member countries have committed to leading the multisectoral mental health response by guiding and harmonising the social, education, development, and economic sectors to address mental health determinants such as poverty, lack of education, social isolation, emergencies, and the impact of climate change, as well as setting country-specific targets to achieve universal primary care-oriented mental health services.

Several Member countries in the Region have already taken steps to strengthen policies, plans, laws, and services aimed at improving population mental health. Replicating and scaling up successful models and innovative interventions, leveraging digital technologies and telemedicine to improve access to services and capacity-building of healthcare workers, and leveraging evidence and data for programme improvement will help the Region withstand future mental health impacts exacerbated by humanitarian crises, climate change, and economic downturns.

The WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia has issued numerous significant decisions on mental health. These include alcohol consumption control policy options; noncommunicable diseases, mental health, and neurological disorders; comprehensive and coordinated efforts to manage autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities; and the SEA Regional Action Plan to implement the Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Alcohol Use.

WHO will continue to assist countries in reorienting primary care for mental health through task-sharing; capacity-building for mental health and psychosocial support during emergencies; and the establishment of a regional knowledge and training hub for coordinating evidence and data generation, prioritising research areas, and facilitating the exchange of experiences based on identified needs.

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