The Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital has launched the Enhancing Mental Healthcare Services Project in Phnom Penh. It is expected to benefit about 30,000 people by 2024.

The Singapore-Cambodia collaboration – announced on February 25 – is a two-year project that will enable healthcare specialists from the two countries to work together to create sustainable improvements in mental health care in the capital.

According to the joint press release, this capacity-building project aims to augment mental healthcare services at the hospital and will support two additional Cambodian health institutions: the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and the Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia.

Over the next two years, Singapore International Volunteers (SIV) – comprising a multi-disciplinary group of mental healthcare professionals from the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore – will work directly with 50 Cambodian practitioners.

“Out of this pool of Cambodian practitioners, 12 will be identified to undergo further training to qualify as master trainers. They will join the SIVs to teach their peers,” the press release said.

“This train-the-trainer model will empower Cambodians and enable longer-term, sustainable impacts on the wider community. At least 30,000 people are expected to benefit by the end of the project in 2024,” it added.

The Cambodian participants will comprise mainly psychiatrists and emergency physicians, although some psychologists, nurses, social workers, and general practitioners are expected to join. The training will focus on how to manage psychiatric emergencies and treat patients with mood and anxiety disorders.

SIF governor Lee Huay Leng said that as more and more people struggle with mental illnesses, there is an urgent need for global communities to connect and collectively tackle the stigmas and the lack of understanding surrounding mental health.

“We are bringing together healthcare specialists from Singapore and Cambodia to share expertise, knowledge and best practices. This project also marks 20 years of collaboration between the SIF and the people of Cambodia to effect positive change and uplift lives,” she added.

Chak Thida, deputy director of the hospital, said mental health was a serious issue in Cambodia, with many people suffering in silence.

He said they were thus honoured to partner with the SIF for the project.

“We are grateful for the warm support and friendship shown by the volunteer team from Singapore. We look forward to many more collaborations with the SIF in the years to come,” he said.

The project marks the SIF’s third mental healthcare initiative in Cambodia. It follows the success of earlier capacity-building projects in Phnom Penh when SIV specialists trained Cambodian healthcare professionals in the areas of child mental health (2002-2004) and counselling for children-at-risk (2007).

These initiatives resulted in the development of more than 50 Cambodian master trainers who have contributed to improved care for troubled children and children living with mental illnesses and their families.