Belize City, Belize, April 26, 2022 (PAHO) – The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW), in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), with funding support from the European Union (EU), held an official ceremony this morning to launch the start of a series of training workshops on the Mental Health Gap Action Programme Intervention Guide (mhGAP-IG) for primary care physicians and nurses from the four health regions (Central, Southern, Northern, and Western) throughout the country.
Although there have been many substantial efforts in raising public awareness about mental health, there is still a stigma associated with mental health in the country. Moreover, as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there has been an increasing demand in providing mental health services. This has brought attention to the significant shortage of psychiatrists and mental health care providers in Belize. With these mhGAP-IG training workshops, the health regions will be able to integrate mental health services into their primary care increasing access across the country.
“As many as one in four (persons) has or will suffer from a mental health condition like anxiety stress, depression, substance use,” said Dr. Fidel Cuéllar, Deputy Director of Public Health and Wellness of the MoHW. “Belize has a population of about 410,000 people but only 16 psychiatric nurse practitioners, five psychiatrists, and one psychotherapist. This means that mental health care is not readily available to the general population, and it is this gap that we are trying to close. Incorporating mental health care into the primary care setting is a sure way to provide mental health care to the population.”
The mhGAP- IG, an evidence-based program developed by WHO, aims to scale up care for Mental, Neurological and Substance Use (MNS) disorders at the primary care level. It will enable primary care physicians and nurses, who are not mental health specialists, to detect and treat common mental health disorders as well as to know when to make appropriate referrals for specialized services. Training on mhGAP-IG, therefore, promotes the integration of mental health services at the primary care level, thereby, enhancing access to much-needed mental health services in the community.
“Indeed, there is no health without mental health. Undertaking the roll-out of this series of mhGAP-IG training is, therefore, a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Edwin Bolastig, PAHO/WHO Health Systems and Services Advisor. “The delivery of mental health services in primary care is cost-effective and efficient. Assuring person-centred mental health services that are integrated into primary care services help achieve our collective goal of achieving universal health access and coverage.”
There is a widely shared myth that all mental health interventions are complex and can only be delivered by highly specialized staff. Evidenced-based research has shown that when properly trained, using tools such as mhGAP-IG, primary care practitioners can successfully provide quality care in a non-specialized health care setting, and help to raise community awareness about mental health.
Throughout the workshop, healthcare providers will learn about the principles of essential care for all people seeking health care, including those with MNS conditions, in their care. The mhGAP is a technical tool that enables the development of listening and communication skills using protocols for clinical decision-making.
The workshop will host around 50 participants and it concludes in June 2022.