Cambodia would do well to adopt a new clinical guide by the WHO and the UN refugee agency on mental health response after humanitarian emergencies as the Kingdom currently lacks this type of mechanism, health officials said yesterday.
Out of the 80 million victims of natural disasters, disease outbreaks and armed conflicts worldwide, around 5 to 10 per cent suffer from a mental health condition, the WHO says.
The Mental Health Gap Action Programme Humanitarian Intervention Guide (mhGAP), which was released on Tuesday, outlines first-line management recommendations that could aid general health workers in better identifying, assessing and managing these victims’ growing mental health needs in the absence of a specialist.
“If the guide is adapted into the local context, it could really help Cambodia, as there are lots of people here who suffer from PTSD, psychosis and substance abuse,” said World Health Organization mental health officer Dr Yel Daravuth.
The mhGAP includes practical and medical advice for clinical managers as they integrate mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) response in their general health care agenda. Such advice includes ensuring the availability of essential medicines and creating proper environments for MNS consultations.
It also outlines how to assess and manage conditions such as acute stress, grief, moderate to severe depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and harmful alcohol and drug use.
“This kind of task-sharing hasn’t been implemented nationally in Cambodia . . . but it’s the right time to move on to mental health, and I think the government is aware,” said Dr J Bhoomikumar, director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
Last year, the Ministry of Health established the Centre for Mental Health and Drug Dependence, which has been training volunteers and community members in “mental health first aid”, which helps them identify mental health issues and determine if patients require specialist attention.
After the recent HIV outbreak in Battambang, the MoH and its partners sent psychiatrists and monks to help treat and counsel patients who exhibited MNS conditions.
“Adopting this is good but it will be gradual, and [we] call for the MoH to work with partners and properly teach general health workers this kind of response,” said Transcultural Psychosocial Organization director Dr Chhim Sotheara.