LAOS: Mental Health Neglected

VIENTIANE, 5 April 2011 (IRIN) – Three years after the Lao government adopted its first mental health policy, there is still no national plan of action or implementation strategy, say mental health experts.
“I can say that mental health is a neglected area… Laos still has two psychiatrists for six million people,” said Supachai Douangchak, a technical officer specializing in mental health at the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

The most recent analysis of the situation in Laos, commissioned by WHO in 2002, revealed how mental health issues were considered “completely new” for the country.

Nearly a decade later, there is scant mental health data and no dedicated mental health division in the Ministry of Health, but a drug treatment programme has been expanded to focus on mental health focus since 2009.

“They have made the [programme] name longer and added one doctor. This is a good start and we hope in the future there will be more than one [mental health] staff,” said Douangchak.

There is one public mental health ward for the entire country in Mahosot Hospital in the capital with no specialists and 29 in-patient beds, said Chantharavady Choulamany, one of the country’s two psychiatrists and co-author of the 2002 WHO study and project coordinator of the UK-headquarted BasicNeeds NGO, which has worked on mental health needs in Laos since 2005.

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