PAN, October 10, 2010

Over 60pc Afghans suffer from mental health problems

Dr Farid Anwari, a psychiatrist said that he feared the percentage of metnatl patients would be far more than what was announced

By Zarghona Salehi

KABUL - Over 60 percent of Afghans suffered from mental health problems and stress due to the decades of war, poverty, political vulnerability and poor health facilities, the health minister said on Sunday.

Afghan mental patient
An Afghan man with mental health problems is chained in a mud room at the Mia Ali Baba shrine, in line with a traditional belief that spending 40 days chained in isolation at the shrine can cure the illness, in Jalalabad October 8, 2010. Afghanistan is struggling to fight the mental health problems that afflict an estimated two thirds of its population after decades of violence, the country's health ministry said on Sunday, World Mental Health Day. Picture taken October 8, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/ Parwiz)

Speaking at a ceremony marking the World Mental Health Day, Dr Suraya Dalil said 'major steps' had been taken to improve the health sector, but added those measures were still insufficient and there was a need for doing more.

She said it was a major problem while the picture was particularly grim in parts of the country where government healthcare workers were unable to provide basic services because of Taliban insurgency.

She linked the high percentage of mental problems to extreme poverty, insecurity, violence and gender disparities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) representative for Afghanistan, Peter Graaff confirmed that more than 60 percent of Afghans, mostly women, suffered from psychosocial problems or mental disorders.

He said a large majority of people suffering from these disorders received no care at all because only a fraction of the health budget was spent on mental health.

"There are only 200 beds for psychiatric services in the country, with only two psychiatrists in the country covering the entire population," Graaff said.

Dalil said they were planning to provided one psychiatrist to each health clinic across the country/

Graaff said the WHO was trying hard to provide technical assistance to Afghan public health officials to cope with the situation.

Some Kabul-based psychiatrists criticised the Ministry of Public Health for merely collecting the data and not delivering services.

Dr Farid Anwari, a psychiatrist said that he feared the percentage of metnatl patients would be far more than what was announced.

He said there was only one mental hospital in Kabul while some provinces did not have such facilities at all.

He believed the ministry was busy in other activities and was taking seriously the problem.

"Even if 60 percent is true, then indeed this is a big number, why the ministry hasn’t done anything to cope with the problem," he asked.

Another doctor, Dr Aziz Himmat said that the number of Afghans suffering from psychological disorders had been mentioned several times but even one percent of them had not yet been treated.

He suggested the ministry should work seriously together with the international community to address the problem.

The 60 percent estimate dated from a study carried out with the WHO in 2004.

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