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More funding for mental health needed, experts say

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Mental health patients seeking treatment queue at a hospital in Phnom Penh to see a doctor or nurse. Afp

More funding for mental health needed, experts say

Cambodia's budget for mental health care must be increased dramatically if the government aims to properly respond to the mounting demand for services in the Kingdom, health experts said yesterday.

The current state of mental health care in Cambodia, where studies say 1.5 million people are living with a variety of mental health issues, falls far short of the global average, officials agreed.

According to the Mental Health Atlas, released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, nearly a tenth of people worldwide have mental health disorders and nearly half of the world’s population lives in a country where there is less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people.

“The demand [in Cambodia] is certainly higher than the current services provided . . . and even the quality is not so good as other countries’, but it has improved and [is] better compared to nothing,” said Dr Muny Sothara, deputy director of the recently established Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Following a 2014 survey by the department and the WHO, Cambodia was found to have 63 mental health outpatient facilities and only one inpatient facility, with 10 patient beds in the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, said WHO mental health officer Dr Yel Daravuth.

Last year, the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital recorded 248 inpatient cases, while other clinics and health centres dealt with 42,333 outpatient cases nationwide.

There are also only 41 registered psychiatrists in the Kingdom – 10 for inpatient facilities and 31 outpatient facilities – while there are 81 psychiatric nurses and 19 general practitioners with mental health training spread between both types of facilities.

“This is a big problem,” Daravuth said. “We can’t even compare the amount Cambodia spends to other countries, because it’s seriously very low.”

Most public clinics, hospitals and some private clinics, such as the one run by the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, charge $2 to $3 per consultation and a month of medication, an amount TPO executive director Dr Chhim Sotheara said patients cannot always readily afford.

“For a country that has to go through the traumatic experience of war, genocide and poverty, mental health care is just not enough or accessible,” Sotheara said.

“So it’s really important that the government invests more in it so it gets better.”

Sothara agreed, saying he hopes that the budget will also increase for his department as they develop their strategic plan for 2016-20 and expand their training program for doctors.

“We are moving little by little, but this is our ambition,” Sothara added.

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