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WHO Calls for Treatment of Mental Disorders in Developing World


The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to provide care and treatment for millions of people with mental disorders in the developing world. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva on World Mental Health Day.

The World Health Organization reports about 300 million people in the world suffer from mental health disorders.

A substantial number of people in rich countries do not get the help they need. But the World Health Organization says that pales in comparison with the situation in developing countries where more than 75 percent of people suffering from mental disorders receive no treatment or care.

That is why the World Health Organization is launching a program to raise awareness about the enormity of the problem and to persuade governments to change their policies and practices.

The program is focusing on eight key conditions. They include depression, schizophrenia, child mental disorders, alcohol and illicit drugs, substance abuse, dementia, epilepsy and suicide prevention.

WHO Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department Director Benedetto Saraceno tells VOA, the organization's goal is to provide treatment by 2015 for 20 percent of the population who currently are receiving nothing.

"We calculate around 200 million people today are not receiving the treatment they need," Saraceno said. "Twenty percent means 40 million people."

Dr. Saraceno notes across Africa for example, nine out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy go untreated. He says they are unable to access simple and inexpensive anticonvulsant drugs, which cost less than $5 a year per person.

He says people with mental illnesses are hesitant to disclose their problems and seek treatment. He says they are stigmatized. They suffer from discrimination and often are subject to neglect and abuse.

"The key point is to give voice to people with mental health problems so they can come up and say, 'yes. We have mental health problems. So what. We want to be treated. We want to be respected. We want to be part of the solution,' " he explained. "One of the key components of the program is to raise awareness about the silent epidemic of mental disorders and the silent epidemic of human rights violations occurring in many psychiatric facilities."

The World Health Organization wants mental treatment programs to be integrated into national primary health care facilities. It says doctors and nurses should be trained to identify and manage mental disorders in local communities.

The World Health Organization cites several cases where this is successfully being done. For example, it says the national primary care program in Chile now includes treatment of depression for everyone who needs it, benefiting hundreds of thousands of people.

Then again, it says an epilepsy project in local health systems in China is achieving excellent results.

Dr. Saraceno says WHO's cost-effective strategies for tackling the treatment gap for mental disorders are achievable. He says it takes political will and sufficient money to subsidize these programs.