Choice as host a vote of confidence in Centre

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The Centre for International Mental Health (CIMH) has been chosen to set up and host the secretariat for the Movement for Global Mental Health for 2011 to 2013.

CIMH, at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, has been an international leader in drawing world attention to the urgent need for more support for mental health research, training and services in developing countries. The Centre’s Director, Associate Professor Harry Minas, says the selection of CIMH after a competitive international process “was a vote of confidence in CIMH and our capacity to do this work”. CIMH’s track record includes significant successes in helping to achieve mental health reforms in Aceh, Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

The Movement for Global Mental Health is a coalition of 95 institutions and more than 1700 individuals from more than 100 countries, which was established three years ago. Its key mission is to advocate for better conditions for people afflicted by mental illness, particularly in low to middle income countries. This organic, social movement grew out of a “call to action” by The Lancet several years ago when it highlighted the “the global health crisis due to an astonishingly large treatment gap: up to nine of 10 people with a mental health problem do not receive even basic care in some countries”.

The secretariat will address the Movement’s need for governance and boost international efforts to generate more support for mental health resources in developing countries, says Associate Professor Minas. “Our aim is that it will leverage greater capacity to lobby international agencies and governments,” he says. “There are models for driving reforms on health issues on a global scale, such as the successful campaign by AIDS activists to get cheaper anti-retroviral AIDS drugs to African and other poor countries.”

Early priorities for the new secretariat include its new website, which is already up, and improving communications with and between the Movement’s members. The secretariat is also organising the Movement’s third Global Mental Health Summit and in the longer term, has a more ambitious goal: persuading the United Nations to hold a General Assembly special session on mental health. “That is a pretty big task. It requires global collaboration, funding, organisation and strong administration support,” he says. “The Movement and its partners and the secretariat will be working hard on this.”

Funding to run the secretariat itself is another early priority ¬– but lack of money is not holding back Associate Professor Minas’s plans. His focus is on the bigger picture of how to get funding organisations to better allocate resources to this sector. “Increasingly money is available to low and middle income countries but the capacity to do high quality research, policy or other essential work is largely to be found in countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States,” he says. “We need to develop capacity at both ends – in the countries needing to develop skills and programs and in the organisations like ours that are providing technical and other forms of assistance.“

Funding organisations need to understand that it is vital to adequately support low and middle income countries and the organisations that provide essential technical assistance,” he says. “There is a need for better and more sustained technical support and better evidence – which means high quality research, and evaluation of outcomes of funding programs.”