Haiti: Cooperation in mental health

 

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The earthquake in Haiti caused great suffering in the population due to the amount of lives lost, the number of people who suffered injuries and amputations, the loss of homes, the creation of new homes with very fragile structures and important migratory movements. These circumstances imply an increase in the psychosocial needs of the population in a country where the gap of treatment in mental health is greater than 95% (the proportion of people with mental disorders who do not receive any type of treatment) and where resources are centralized to a single department, the West.

In late January and early February, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) carried out the first mission to evaluate the state of mental health and psychosocial care, and it was found that urgent action was needed. The second mission was longer, and its purpose was to advance a plan of action to support Haiti and deal with the situation on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The missions were led by the Subregional Advisors of PAHO, Dévora Kestel and Víctor Aparicio. In addition, Marc Laporta from the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center in Montreal, Canada, also participated. Currently, the emphasis of the national strategy on mental health in Haiti is placed on the development of the mental health component in primary health care settings because specialized services are very weak throughout the country.

The Ministry of Health designed an intervention strategy with three levels. The first level consists of intervention clinics and mobile teams that give psychosocial aid to the population in new settlements. The second level includes health care centers that will also provide psychological care. The third level includes institutions that have the capacity to perform surgeries.

The most common psychosocial and mental health problems in Haiti include: anxiety and phobia due to fear of more tremors; sleep alterations and somatizations; depression due to the loss of family, loss of health, amputation or the loss of homes; and severe stress. 

Only two public mental health centers are able to provide psychiatric care, the Psychiatric Center Mars & Kline and the Hôpital Defilée de Bedeut. Both institutions are in the West department, where the capital, Port-au-Prince, is located. The lack of sufficient human resources and mental health professionals is critical. PAHO is making a serious effort to promote technical cooperation and support for the country in the field of mental health.