Ministers Discuss 'Challenge' Of Psychiatry In Pacific

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Pacific leaders attending regional health meeting in Samoa

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, July 4, 2013) -- Psychiatry is not a popular profession in the region delegates at the Pacific Ministers of Health meeting here noted.

Samoa's Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr. Talalelei Tuitama said no Pacific nation has accomplished their dream of establishing a special place to hold those with mental disorders.

Mental health was one of nine of the most challenging issues noted during the Ninth Pacific Island Ministers meeting in Honiara in 2011.

It is also one of the issues on the agenda of the 10th Pacific Island Health Ministers now into its second day.

In the ninth meeting of ministers in Honiara in 2011, the Ministers agreed "that mental health issues, if not addressed appropriately and immediately, will continue to grow with a significant adverse impact on socioeconomic development."

The serious shortages of workers trained in mental health and the insufficient use of effective interventions for mental health was diagnosed at the Honiara meeting.

Surveys by World Health Organization (WHO) revealed an estimated 450 million people suffer mental disorders globally.

"Figures show that 90% of people with mental disorder had received no care or treatment in the previous 12 months," the Honiara 2011 report says.

Amongst that percentage are Pacific people.

The establishment of the Pacific Islands Mental Health Network (PIMHNet) in 2007 was a stepping-stone in addressing mental health.

However it did not ignite interest from doctors or health associates to take on psychiatry as a full time profession.

Some 15-20 psychiatrists serve more than 11 million people in the Pacific.

According to the Honiara Health report on mental health, this is a "far from ideal ratio as most of them work in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and areas administered by France or the United States of America."

"Unfortunately, even Samoan doctors do not want to take up psychiatry as a profession," said Dr. Tuitama.

"We do not have a psychiatrist but we are using the part time service of an Australian psychiatrist," he said.

Only three nurses work in the mental unit in Apia but most of the time, "they take their work to the families of the mental people."

When a mental patient becomes aggressive or violent, they are brought to the hospital to be treated and restrained.

"We need human resources and we are looking at recruiting at least ten nurses and two doctors to man the mental health unit planned at the newly opened hospital," said Tuitama.

Government is ensuring that a special unit for mental patients will be completed in the next two years, he said.

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