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The WHO conference: Mental health first aid crucial for Asian tsunami survivors

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 12.1.2005 14.00
Press release -

Helsinki, 12 Jan. – Mental health care and emergency treatment are crucial in helping people who have faced mass scale conflicts and crises, experts attending the WHO ministerial conference on mental health said today.

The care of survivors of the Asian tsunami disaster requires urgent mental health care as a form of first aid, Dr Benedetto Saraceno, of WHO headquarters said at a panel discussion arranged for journalists.

“The tsunami has shown that mental health is in the front line of all activities to help victims,” he said. “There is a great need to bring mental health treatment as quickly as possible to people, not just water and food.”

Dr Saraceno said that all too often politicians forget mental health needs in between one crisis and another. “They then suddenly realise that mental health is important.” He said that that the tsunami disaster underscores that mental health is a crucial constant.

Dr Matt Muijen of the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe said that the declaration to be agreed by the ministerial conference is especially valid in the context of the tsunami disaster. “It includes the crucial issue of populations at risk.”

Dr Gudjón Magnússon of the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe described work within the Stability Pact for South-East Europe to address the mental health toll of the 1991-1992 Balkans conflict.

The Pact includes a mental health dimension that involves partnerships with all nine countries of the region affected by the internecine conflict.

“Representatives of these partnerships are attending this conference to share their experiences of the projects we have been following. We have been making good progress overall, though there are still ethnic tensions, such as in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

The panel discussion drew special attention to the psychosocial situation facing children in the wake of conflicts and catastrophe.

Dr Saraceno said that all the mental health service centres in the areas worst hit by the Asian tsunami were devastated along with other infrastructure. “This demands an intelligent and rational rebuilding of the services.”

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