Benedetto Saraceno retires from WHO

Photo: Valeria Shapira

Benedetto Saraceno is retiring from the World Health Organization (WHO) after a long and rich professional career full of significant milestones achieved both before joining WHO and during his time as Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Benedetto Saraceno began his career as a clinical psychiatrist and worked alongside leaders of the psychiatric reform in Italy. The experience of seeing the transformation of old insane asylums into community-based services left an impression on him that lasts with him today. This experience was followed by a rich period of research at the prestigious Mario Negri Institute of Milan. In spite of his many accomplishments there, Dr. Saraceno started travelling to Central America to collaborate with young democracies in their effort to reform mental health services.

During these missions, he started his long lasting relationship with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). He was one of the most visible figures at the “Conference for the Restructuring of Psychiatric Care in Latin America,” which took place in Venezuela in 1990. The “Declaration of Caracas,” a document that has guided the restructuring of mental health care in Latin America and the Caribbean, was adopted during the event. He joined WHO in order to lead the program “Nations for Mental Health” and helped introduce mental health care in remote places where it was completely or partially unknown.

The following are some important achievements during his time as Director: the ministers of health throughout the world discussed mental health problems for the first time at the 2001 World Health Assembly; World Health Day 2001 was devoted to mental health after an interval of four decades; and the World Health Report was used as a guide to develop important mental health initiatives, such as the Mental Health Global Action Program (mhGAP) and the World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS). 

Dr. Saraceno has collaborated with most countries in the Americas as well as with PAHO, and all who have worked with him recognize his vast efforts and achievements during his tenure as WHO’s Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.