BasicNeeds started its programme in Lao PDR in 2005 and now supports over 800 mentally ill people.
Mental health issues are still new for the people of Lao PDR.
The population has a strong belief in spirits and mental illnesses are often thought to be caused by the possession of evil spirits. Medical professionals are not trained to recognise mental health problems, so consequently many psychosomatic symptoms are dismissed as inconsequential.
At the start of the programme in 2005 there were only two public clinics delivering mental health services to patients: the mental health unit of Mahosot hospital and the mental health unit of the Military Hospital, both in the capital, Vientiane. Mahosot Hospital provides limited services to those who can afford to travel to it. Since mental health services are only available in Vientiane, the treatment access for people with mental health living in countryside is severely limited.
Together, these make a total of 29 beds mental health beds, or 0.03 beds per 10,000 people. The whole country only has 2 psychiatrists, one neurologist, 8 general practitioners, 5 medical assistants and 12 nurses. This tiny number of staff means that community-based mental health care cannot be delivered and research cannot be undertaken. Drug availability is still limited.
However since BasicNeeds commenced its programme the National mental health policy has been endorsed by the Minister of Health in October 2007. Staff from the mental health unit have received training in community consultation meetings and conducting outreach clinics. Staff are now confident mental health care can be delivered at the community level and reach a wide range of mentally ill people.
BasicNeeds has promoted mental health amongst the community through consultation workshops and the lives of the 77 mentally ill people involved in our programme has improved dramatically.
The programme has led to many positive impacts through the establishment of outreach clinics accompanied with follow up treatment at the home of the mentally ill person. Health workers have received training and are now capacitated to conduct training in community mental health to other health workers.
To improve the quality of life of mentally ill patients we will continue to integrate psychosocial treatment into the current health service, as well as strengthen the partnership amongst inter-sector professionals, users and carers. We also hope to support the implementation of the national mental health policy in the country.
Chantharavady Choulamany Programme Manager
House No. 349 Unit 19, Thaphalanxay Village, Sisattanak District, Vientiane Lao PDR
Tel: +856 (0)21 480938/9 Fax: +856 (0)21 312981
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