IOM participates in the development of the National Mental Health Strategy for South Sudan

IOM Chief of Mission, Peter Van der Auweraert addresses the workshop. Photo: Jale Richard/IOM 2021.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is participating in the development of a National Mental Health Strategy for South Sudan.

The Ministry of Health and its partners—the World Health Organization (WHO), IOM, and others are participating in a three-day multi-stakeholder consultative workshop that kicked off in Juba on Monday, November 15 and will be followed up by two-day consultative workshop with Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) practitioners taking place on 18 and 19 November.

The National Mental Health Strategy aims to provide a guide for quality, accessible, affordable, and equitable mental healthcare in South Sudan.

As South Sudan recovers from years of conflict, a significant proportion of South Sudanese people suffer from mental health and psychosocial issues.

According to the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health, there are only 12 beds for mental health patients available in Juba Teaching Hospital, which according to the population count implies that there is only 1 bed per million population available, while there is not a single psychiatric hospital in the country. This leaves a huge mental health care gap for those in need of such services.

Qualified mental health personnel is extremely scarce in the country with only three psychiatrists, two nurses, two clinicians and 24 non-clinical psychologists operational at governmental facilities.

Stemming from these challenges, participants of the workshop are expected to develop a draft strategy to tackle the lack of mental health care and psychosocial support services in South Sudan.

Speaking at the workshop, Dr. Harriet Akello Pasquale, the acting Director-General for Medical Services at the Ministry of Health, says the strategy will provide direction for multi-stakeholders on the approach to mental health as well as support national resource mobilization efforts.

“Today in South Sudan, mental health is being integrated into primary health care to ensure we are providing a comprehensive package of health services to our people, and allow our people access mental health services,” says Dr. Pasquale. “Without mental health, health is never complete. Mental health is equally as important as physical health.”

Dr. Pasquale added that the strategy would go a long way in prioritizing and investing in the treatment of mental health cases in the country.

According to the 2020 data of the Ministry of Health and WHO, Epilepsy and substance use associated disorders are a leading cause of outpatient referrals, with Epilepsy standing at 37 percent and Substance use at 28 percent. Substance use represents the highest cause of admissions and accounts for 21 percent, followed by Epilepsy at 18 percent.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is also a concern with the effect of the war, so this shows there is a huge mental health issue in the country,” says Dr. Atong Ayuel Longar Akol, the Director of Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, the IOM’s Chief of Mission, Mr. Peter Van der Auweraert emphasized the need to invest more in tackling mental health issues, especially since South Sudan is still recovering from the effects of protracted conflict.

“It is really important to support access to mental health services in South Sudan, but also to advocate for with the donor community to spend money on mental health,” says Van der Auweraert.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals