Nima Wangdi 

WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR) member countries adopted the Paro Declaration which commits to universal access to people-centred mental health care and services.

The Paro Declaration was adopted at the ministerial roundtable meeting on addressing mental health through primary care and community engagement on the second day of the ongoing 75th Session of the WHO South-East Asia Regional Committee Session.

Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said 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.”

The declaration urges member countries to develop and implement multi-sectoral policies across the life-course to address mental health risks and reduce treatment gaps exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Singh said that the member states should ensure that mental health services reach all those in need, close to where they live, without financial hardship.

As part of the Declaration, member countries agreed to develop country-specific targets to achieve universal primary care-oriented mental health services and mainstream mental health in policy, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

The Paro Declaration also calls for increased funding for community-based mental health networks and continuous supply of medicines and rehabilitation, including occupational therapy. It also calls for strengthening of data gathering and reporting, implementation research and performance monitoring, to ensure context-sensitive improvement of mental health systems.

It is estimated that around one in seven people live with a mental health condition in the region. The personal and economic distress and disruptions that Covid-19 caused have widened the gaps in addressing mental health challenges, which include scarcity of human resources, low investment, stigma, inadequate prevention and promotion programmes, paucity of data, and lack of services in primary care.

The Declaration calls for ensuring an effective and comprehensive response to mental health needs by establishing evidence-based and rights-oriented community mental health networks.

Member countries committed to prioritising fiscal space for health and universal health coverage, securing adequate investment for mental health services at the primary and secondary level, and mobilising required additional resources in partnership with local and international stakeholders.

Members also committed to expanding the specialised and non-specialised mental health workforce by identifying new cadres of healthcare personnel who are trained, equipped, and skilled for the delivery of mental health services at the primary care level.

It was agreed that member countries will lead the multi-sectoral mental health response by guiding and harmonising the social, education, development and economic sectors to address determinants of mental health, such as poverty, lack of education, social isolation, emergencies and impact of climate change, and set country-specific targets to achieve universal primary care-oriented mental health services.

Press release from WHO stated that several member countries in the region have already taken action to strengthen policies, plans, laws, and services to improve the mental health of populations.

RCM also promulgated several important resolutions related to mental health, which include alcohol consumption control policy options; non-communicable diseases; mental health and neurological disorders; comprehensive and coordinated efforts for the management of autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities; and the SEA Regional Action Plan to implement the Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

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