Mental health in Pacific under scrutiny at conference
Mental health care and dealing with natural disasters have already been at the forefront of the Pasifika Medical Association Conference in Vanuatu.
Mental health care and dealing with natural disasters have been leading areas of focus at the Pasifika Medical Association Conference in Vanuatu.
The conference officially opens today in Port Vila but workshops have already been held to allow local doctors to share their experience of Cyclone Pam.
Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:
It's the first time the biennial Pasifika Medical Association conference is being hosted by a Melanesian country. In March, Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu killing at least 11 people, leaving thousands homeless, and destroying most crops. The superintendent of Vila Central Hospital, Dr Richard Leona, spoke during a session yesterday about what Vanuatu and the region should do during and after a disaster.
"What we've learnt is that we have to shift from just responding to a disaster and be prepared for a disaster so that we can prevent the emerging risk of a disaster but also mitigating the current risks of the disaster."
For the past two days mental health experts from Australia and New Zealand have led a workshop for local health professionals. Dr Nick Kowalenko, Chair of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, says the Association invited them because it recognises the importance of mental health. He says they're sharing their knowledge with local doctors and nurses and providing educational materials.
"But we're also teaching them in methods and approaches to deal with mental health problems, we're teaching them about drug use in young people, we're teaching them about trauma and the effects and how this might affect children with their worries and how they might become ill in terms of their worries and try to provide ways in which the workers here can help families in Vanuatu to help them with their children."
He says there's growing concern about suicide rates and drug use in the region. Efforts are also being urged to ensure that young people have access to appropriate treatment so they can stay in school, stay in work, and be productive members of the community. Dr Nick Kowalenko says children are still recovering mentally from the trauma of Cyclone Pam.
"It had such a big impact in Vanuatu and some children are still you know very slow because of the cyclone or they're having trouble with being worried or they're having trouble at school, sometimes they're misbehaving at school and some of those worries go back to worries about the cyclone and the impact of what happened."
Dr Kowalenko says they're trying to encourage nurses especially to do more to support teachers who are dealing with troubled children so they can learn at their full potential. Dr Leona says he would like to see the Government, through the Ministry of Health, set up a national body that is dedicated to disaster risk management. He says not only is Vanuatu still recovering from Cyclone Pam, but the Pacific region is preparing for what climate forecasters say could be one of the worst El Niño events since the late 1990s.
"As Vanuatu's in the top six countries in the world for the highest risk of disaster so the Government through the Ministry of Health has to very seriously take it on board and set up a national committee and we're already planning to do that."
Dr Leona says it's hoped as a result of the conference a regional network will be set up to help manage disasters through countries existing health structures.
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