Fifty-eighth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 10-14 September 2007, Jeju, Republic of Korea
Jeju, Republic of Korea, 14 September 2007—Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, warned of increasing mental and neurological disorders in many countries in the Region, and the unmet need for treatment of these disorders.
Mental health is not high on the agenda in many countries and areas in the Region, and as a result, resources are scarce and difficult to access. Resource allocation is less than 1% of the total health budget in half of the countries and areas in the Region.
A WHO global project found that among patients with mental disorders in less developed countries, as many as 85% received no treatment in the prior 12 months. "This is consistent with findings from our mental health situation analysis conducted in the Region," said Dr Omi.
For 2002, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available, mental and neurological disorders accounted for nearly 18% of the total disease burden in the Western Pacific Region, with depression alone responsible for more than 6% of that burden. There were approximately 331 000 suicides in the Region in 2002, and the number of cases would have been significantly reduced had there been more outreach programmes, Dr Omi noted.
"The notion that mental disorders are problems of only wealthy, industrialized countries is simply wrong," Dr Omi said. "The poor are more likely to suffer from these disorders. Mental and neurological disorders can have a severe impact on the ability to earn a living, thereby contributing to the cycle of poverty."
Integrating mental health care into general health services, particularly at the primary level, is expected to improve screening and treatment, limit the stigma associated with accepting treatment, and improve the treatment of physical problems of those suffering from mental illness.
Dr Omi urged Member States to come up with innovative programmes as well as to further develop workforces necessary for modern mental health care. He cited the WHO Pacific Islands Mental Health Network (PIMHnet) as a good example. A joint initiative of the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific and WHO Headquarters, PIMHnet was launched in March 2007 to address geographical and resource constraints in the field of mental health. Seventeen countries and areas are currently members of PIMHnet, and more countries are expected to join this year.
Dr Omi called on the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, meeting in Jeju, to look into ways to overcome the major barriers that hamper the improvement of mental health services. Meanwhile, the Regional Committee urged Member States to increase political, financial and technical commitment in order to address mental, behavioural and neurological disorders.