Making mental health a priority for the upcoming high-level UN meetings
By Muhammad Ali Hasnian, Senior Officer, United for Global Mental Health
This September, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will host three high-level meetings (HLM) on health: one on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response; a second on universal health coverage; and a third on TB.
These three HLMs represent a major opportunity to promote global mental health.
The UNGA, the UN’s main decision-making body representing all 193 Member States, convenes high-level meetings to reach consensus among governments on important global issues. Commitments secured at these meetings are then codified in the form of non-binding political declarations for Member States to implement nationally.
A conference to influence the three HLMs
In the run up to these HLMs, APCASO, an Asia-Pacific health, social justice and human rights network hosted the ‘3 HLMs, One Region, a Unified Vision’ conference in Jakarta in March. It aimed to bring together community and civil society representatives so their voices could help develop a statement capturing the region’s priorities across all three meetings.
United for Global Mental Health (UnitedGMH) was invited to help make sure mental health was one of these priorities – and in many ways it was knocking at an open door.
Almost every CSO and government present at the conference – from countries including Papua New Guinea, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and many others – have either already integrated mental health into their work or were keen to learn how they could do so.
They recognised the importance of mental health as a crucial part of their support for people living with HIV and/or TB and other key vulnerable populations, as expanded upon by UnitedGMH in its Bending the Curve report.
As the conference attendees divided into breakout sessions to discuss priority issues for each HLM, mental health emerged as a cross-cutting issue for all three:
- For universal health coverage (UHC), the integration of mental health services into all UHC national policies and programmes was considered a priority, an ask reflected in the final regional statement.
- Under TB priorities, the right of TB patients to have access to the highest quality of mental health services as part of their treatment was highlighted.
- And with pandemic prevention, preparedness and response the need to include mental health services as part of essential pandemic-response health services was emphasised.
Trailblazers for mental health
The conference saw many key participants emphasise the importance of mental health.
The Stop TB Partnership vowed to integrate the regional statement’s priorities within its asks for the HLMs. The partnership’s Executive Director, Lucica Ditiu, also acknowledged the importance of mental health in an address to the conference.
The Thai government – one of many governmental attendees – is a mental health trailblazer. It has integrated essential mental health services into Thailand’s UHC reforms and has a big role to play as an official co-facilitator of the Member State negotiations for the HLM on UHC.
It was vocal about its desire to host a follow-up dialogue in Bangkok to ensure that the regional priorities influence the political declaration negotiations for the three HLMs.
APCASO’s Executive Director RD Marte emphasised the role of civil societies and communities, saying:
“We exist, we have a right to be engaged in policy and frameworks-setting that affect our lives. The spaces for our engagement are limited and continue to shrink, but we are reclaiming our right to count in development discussions anyway. And so we are carving out spaces for dialogues, here we are stepping forward, and we invite you meet us halfway.”
Members of the Global Mental Health Action Network can step forward and play their part. They can ensure that their national governments champion the global mental health community’s policy recommendations during the political declaration negotiations for the three HLMs – seizing the opportunity the HLMs present to promote the cause of better global mental health for all.