KARACHI: Experts at a seminar on the state of mental health in the country on World Health Day on Tuesday were worried about continued lack of attention to this critical segment of health care, which they said could be gauged from the fact that just two per cent of an already poorly allocated health budget was being allocated for mental health issues.
The seminar was organised by the Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Mental Health Forum at a local hotel.
Although the theme for this year was food and safety, organisers however, decided to join hands with participating organisations to celebrate the Sindh Mental Health Act, 2013.
Take a look: Breaking point: Mental health in Pakistan
The final gazette notification of its rules and forms was issued a month earlier.
The experts added that depression and anxiety in primary care were critical public health problems costing society heavily in the shape of disability, morbidity, mortality and excessive healthcare expenditure.
The participants in the seminar were informed that there was just a single psychiatrist for 500,000 Pakistanis, one psychiatric nurse for 1,250,000 and just a single bed for the population of more than 40,000 people.
They said 2.4pc of the budget was being allocated for health, of which just two per cent was being allocated for mental health.
The chairperson of the HRCP, Zohra Yusuf, said allocation for health-related issues was dismally low in Pakistan while it was even less when it came to dealing with mental health issues.
She said mental health problems had become a key human rights issue in recent times when terrorism and conflict plagued society.
She said after the passage of the Sindh Mental Health Act, it was need of the hour that all segments that mattered in society launch a campaign to get the law effectively enforced.
She called upon psychiatrists to focus on the conflict situation in Pakistan, where the whole society got traumatised because of violence, bombings and militancy.
She appreciated the government for establishing psycho-trauma centres and a related authority in the country to deal with psychological problems arising out of the fragile security situation.
She, along with eminent psychiatrist Prof S. Haroon Ahmed, highlighted the rights of mentally ill and also those in the so-called charya (lunatic) wards in prisons. She said the HRCP was formed to raise voice for those who could not strive for their rights themselves. Retired Justice Ghous Mohammad spoke about efforts he put in formulating the rules for the Sindh Mental Health Act.
Professor Iqbal Afridi discussed the role of teaching institutions in educating doctors, lawyers and users about the newly enacted law. He stressed the need for taking responsibility for the propagation of the SMHA 2013.
Dr Saadia Quraishy, who runs a community mental health programme, made a presentation and promised to include in the project the propagation of rights of the mentally ill.
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2015