SE-Asia region commits to step-up mental health services

Paro Declaration on universal access to people-centered mental health care and services in the region was endorsed at the ministerial roundtable

Health Ministers from member countries of the WHO SEARO at the 75th RCM in Paro


Recognizing the significant burden of mental health issues, member countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region adopted the Paro Declaration to boost mental health services at the recently concluded 75th Regional Committee Meeting in Paro.

The declaration, chaired by the health minister of Bhutan, at the ministerial roundtable meeting on 6 September commits to enhancing universal access to people-centered mental healthcare and services through primary care and community engagement.

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

WHO regional director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that increasing investment in mental health reduces treatment costs and increases productivity, employment, and quality of life.

“Countries and partners must drive the mental health agenda forward fully mindful that every country, no matter its current situation, or from where it starts, has an array of opportunities to improve mental health for its population significantly,” she added.

The member countries will also develop country-specific targets to achieve universal primary care-oriented mental health services and mainstream mental health in policy planning, implementation, and evaluation.

The regional director said that some countries in the region have strengthened existing community initiatives to increase social and informal mental health support in non-health settings, and enhance services at the primary level.

“During the pandemic, several countries integrated mental health services into primary health care, focusing on training non-specialist health workers to detect, diagnose and treat priority mental health conditions,” she said.

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 and systematically planning for the deinstitutionalization of care for people with severe mental disorders.

Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said it was a wonderful opportunity to rewrite history, redesign, and strategies to deliver services to the most venerable population thus leaving no one behind.

“We need a paradigm shift in terms of how we do business and we need to transform so that the mental health issue is no longer the white elephant in the room, we need to do something about it,” Lyonpo said.

In addition, the member countries are committed to leading the multisectoral mental health response by guiding and harmonizing the social, education, development, and economic sectors to address determinants of mental health and set country-specific targets to achieve universal primary care-oriented mental health services.

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

The commitments also include expanding specialized and non-specialized mental health workforce 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 part of multidisciplinary teams within the health sector.

According to WHO SEARO, which contributes one-quarter of the world’s population, around 1 in 7 people live with a mental health condition in the region. “WHO will continue to support in strengthening countries in reorienting primary care for mental health.”

It stated that the personal and economic distress and disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have widened the gaps in addressing mental health challenges.