Mental health care for the poor

World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan vowed to "change the landscape" for mental health at the launch of a drive to counter neglect that is leaving millions of poor people without care.

About 75% of sufferers in poor and middle income countries are thought to be left out, fuelled by a lack of knowledge among ordinary doctors and nurses, social stigma, neglect, lack of funding, and an increasingly challenged rich country focus on psychiatric institutions, health experts said.

"One in four people are affected by mental, neurological disorders or substance abuse in their lifetime," worldwide said WHO Assistant Director General Ala Alwan.

The WHO estimates that 150 million people suffer from depression, 40 million from epilepsy, 20 million from dementia or Alzheimer's disease among a host of mental or neurological disorders.

Misplace perceptions

"Efforts to close the mental health gap have been impeded by a widespead assumption that improvements in mental health require sophisticated and expensive technologies, delivered in highly specialised settings by highly specialised staff," said WHO Director General Chan,

"We face a misplaced perception that mental health intervention is a luxury," she added pledging to challenge that attitude.

While high profile diseases grab attention, mental and neurological disorders are "swept under the carpet and brushed aside" even though they form 14% of global disease burden, Chan warned.

A cornerstone of the drive is a new guide for ordinary doctors and nurses in developing and emerging countries to ease diagnosis and proper treatment of mental and neurological disorders, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Changing the landscape of mental health

Chan said it could "change the landscape for mental health."

Drawn up by 200 specialists from around the world, the guide places the emphasis on primary care, guiding doctors through each stage from identifying symptoms of disorders such as depression and epilepsy to treatment or care.

But they discovered that 99% of the knowledge came from rich nations, and faced substantial work in adapting it to developing countries, said one of the authors, Graham Thornicroft of the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

(Sapa, October 2010) 

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