Mental health at the 72nd World Health Assembly

The 72nd World Health Assembly – the annual gathering of health ministers from across the world – starts in Geneva today. Mental health will feature prominently in the first few days. However, mental health advocates will be pressing for more than words: the aim is to secure the integration of mental health in national and international plans for Universal Health Coverage. A second key objective is to raise more funds for mental health, including through the Global Fund replenishment that takes place later in the year.

On Sunday May 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted Walk the Talk, a celebration of Health For All, featuring mental health. Mental health advocates taking to the stage included Cynthia Germanotta, President of the Born this Way Foundation and Nigerian musician Korede Bello, who gave a rousing musical performance, together with the African Ndiguel Dance Troupe.

Campaigners and supporters of Speak Your Mind – the civil society-led global mental health campaign – launched the campaign at a Sunday reception, attended by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, along with government and civil society representatives. Campaigners shared their personal stories, reasons for campaigning and calls to action.

On Monday 20 May, the World Health Assembly (WHA) formally opens. A specially installed replica of the Friendship Bench will allow its creator Dr Dixon Chibanda to introduce the highly successful community mental health project to delegates. He will encourage them to consider how to increase investment in mental health and build capacity in communities, moving away from the status quo of diverting most resources to secondary and tertiary facilities.

Campaigners and advocates will call on their governments to integrate mental health into Universal Health Coverage, meeting with delegates in the margins of the WHA. They will also call for greater investment by the Global Fund in mental health.

Wednesday May 22 is also a key day for mental health. The WHO will launch its new Special Initiative for Mental Health at its Technical Briefing on mental health. The World Economic Forum is holding briefings on mental health and the private sector. Finally, the Young Leaders for Global Mental Health will launch their new policy paper at a roundtable on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and SDG 3.