Regional Report - Palestine

New programme for mental health services

The Palestinian Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 25 June launched what they called an “ambitious” project to change the way mental health services are offered to patients in the West Bank and Gaza.

The project will also aim to rid society of stigmas associated with mental illnesses, reports IRIN.

“It is the right of all people to access mental health services,” said the health minister, Fathi Abu Moghli, at a launch event in Ramallah.

“Someone suffering from a mental health problem was called 'crazy' but this word should be deleted from our lexicon,” he said, adding that part of the new programme was to change public attitudes to psychology and psychiatry.

Adnan Dagher, a member of the Family Association which is also involved in the new health project, said negative attitudes to mental health made life harder for the patient and their families. He also noted that to get the true number of people affected by mental illness you should “multiply each patient by five”.

Family groups

The goal of the project is to have family groups across the West Bank and Gaza available to support the relatives of people coping with emotional distress and psychiatric conditions. These groups will also work to address public image issues at the community level.

The project aims to improve the types of services available to sufferers and implement changes to the health system to ensure better treatment, for example by keeping patients closer to home and not sending them away to remote hospitals.

“We should treat these people within the community, not locked away,” said Abu Moghli.

In order to reach the desired level of services, the WHO said it planned to offer education programmes.

The WHO would develop and implement strategies to improve the skills of mental health professionals, including offering postgraduate degree programmes and training seminars, Tony Lawrence, acting head of the WHO in the West Bank and Gaza, said.

Changing the law

The health ministry and the WHO said they wanted to change legislation to better protect the rights of mental health patients.

However, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has been frozen since the internal political conflict between Hamas (which rules Gaza) and Fatah (which dominates the West Bank) reached a peak over a year ago, preventing Parliament from convening and carrying out its legislative and oversight roles.

In spite of the deep divide between the two parts of occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), project officials say it will go ahead in both areas and not be confined solely to the West Bank.

The Palestinian Health Ministry's Abu Moghli and John Kjaer from the European Commission agreed that the conflict and Israeli occupation had contributed to mental health problems in the oPt.

The Europeans have already given 1.5 million euros to the project, which began research and planning in 2004, and say they will give another 3.5 million euros to see the project through to 2010.

“This project is about helping vulnerable people in society,” Kjaer said, adding: “It will allow them a normal life – to deal with the challenges life throws at them.”

ate of upload: 29th September 2008

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