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WHO laments dwindling investment in mental health, shifts target to 2030

by Haruna Gimba

By Zayamu Hassan

The World Health Organisation (WHO), has expressed disappointment over the inability of countries to provide mental health services to their residents due to poor investment. 

This is even when the COVID-19 pandemic has shown greater need for mental health support.

The global health body has, therefore, shifted its mental health target that was initially meant for 2020 to 2030.

This is contained in the WHO new Mental Health Atlas which includes data from 171 countries.

Issued every three years, the Atlas is a compilation of data provided by countries around the world on mental health policies, legislation, financing, human resources, availability and utilization of services and data collection systems.

It is also the mechanism for monitoring progress towards meeting the targets in WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.

In his comment while reacting to the report, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment.

“We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health, because there is no health without mental health.”

On leadership governance, the report noted that none of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems, were close to being achieved.

According to the WHO, in 2020, just 51% of its 194 Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80% target and that only 52% of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80% target.

The only 2020 target met, it said, was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10 per cent , but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan.

However, the percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health has scarcely changed during the last years, still hovering around 2%.

Moreover, even when policies and plans included estimates of required human and financial resources, just 39 per cent of responding countries indicated that the necessary human resources had been allocated and 34per cent that the required financial resources had been provided.

Giving reasons for the extension of the global target, the WHO said that the plan has now been extended to 2030 and includes new targets for the inclusion of mental health and psychosocial support in emergency preparedness plans, the integration of mental health into primary health care, and research on mental health.

“The new data from the Mental Health Atlas shows us that we still have a very long way to go in making sure that everyone, everywhere, has access to quality mental health care.

“But I am encouraged by the renewed vigour that we saw from governments as the new targets for 2030 were discussed and agreed and am confident that together we can do what is necessary to move from baby steps to giant leaps forward in the next 10 years,” says Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO, Dévora Kestel.

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