Mental Health For All Webinar: Leave no one behind. No health without mental health.
On 30th November, our #MentalHealthforAll webinar invited panelists to discuss the crucial need for the integration of mental health into universal health coverage (UHC) and the challenges faced at the national level in doing so. The speakers for the session were:
- Rob Yates (Executive Director, Center for Universal Health, Chatham House)
- Dr. Asma Humayun (Technical Advisor, Ministry of PDSI Pakistan)
- Peter Yaro (Executive Director, Basic Needs Ghana)
- Pradeep Gunarathne - Chair (National Organizer, CANMHLanka)
The concept of UHC is simple - everyone should have access to the health services they need without suffering from financial burden. Our panelists were in consensus not only on the fact that the world had finally begun to come around to this statement but also that delivering on the promise it makes meant acknowledging the central role of mental health in UHC.
The need is greater than ever, as acknowledged by Robert Yates from Chatham House, who noted that whilst the commitment to UHC at a head of state level pre-dated the pandemic, Covid-19 has hit health services hard and exacerbated the need for mental health services as a part of UHC as trauma from the virus and lockdown add to the slew of mental health issues that prevail in our society.
Despite the increased need, the harsh reality is that progress at the national level is slow, both due to a lack of data on the nature and scale of mental health problems and a lack of investment in mental health. In Pakistan, as Dr Asma Humayun explained, a technical Advisor to the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, the scarcity of resources, lack of accountability and over-reliance on bio-medical practices are just some of the challenges that contribute to the huge mental health treatment gap as part of UHC. Meanwhile in Ghana, Peter Yaro of Basic Needs Ghana acknowledged that the level of investment in mental health needs to substantially increase from 1% of the health budget to the committed 5% for meaningful progress to occur.
It is not all doom and gloom however as encouragement can be found in the form of the existence of a mental health act and policy, as well as the implementation of WHO Quality Rights programs in Ghana. Meanwhile, Pakistan has launched a scalable rights based, multilayered web portal and telecom solution piloting in its capital, that consolidates information, supports mental health trainings and services and crucially supports community outreach and care, allowing users to evaluate and manage their own stress, all for the paltry sum of $.006 per month per user.
Making sure that innovative models like these become part and parcel of UHC will require some work. For a start, it requires acknowledging mental health as a cross cutting component of UHC, the glue that, as aptly explained by Robert Yates, connects health services with the social determinants of health, and advocating for its inclusion by viewing UHC reforms in a holistic manner.
This advocacy can be done by influencing global discourse at moments like the World Health Assembly and the IMF meetings, but also at the national level, by engaging on UHC with national governments and political leaders, particularly around election time. Peter Yaro highlights the role of Civil Society Organisations in this by calling for them to rally, create coalitions and take advantage of the ongoing crisis by raising the issue and asking for a bigger share for mental health resources as part of UHC. This is necessary, not only because people with mental health conditions have the right to affordable health care and support, but also to end abusive practices like shackling and chaining or resorting to traditional healing either because treatment is unavailable or unaffordable at community level.
All of the panelists were unequivocal in stating that mental health had to be integrated into UHC and that the pandemic provided a unique opportunity for advocates of mental health and UHC reforms to make this a reality and ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to accessible and affordable healthcare.