Every week, information meetings are held in the Township of Hlaing Thar Yar, about 10km from the center of Yangon in Myanmar. Led by community health workers, such as Ms. Bu Taw, these meetings are designed to raise awareness about mental disorders and identify potential patients.
This is a key activity in the project to develop access to mental health care, which was launched in 2017 by the Myanmar Medical Association, in partnership with the Myanmar Mental Health Society, the World Association of Social Psychiatry, the World Francophone Digital University, and Sanofi.
“Mental health is still an issue for Myanmar because as a country of 52 million people we still do not have enough trained psychiatrists to be diagnosing this problem. So we have to educate the public and we have to get the general practitioner involved. And this is what this project will be doing,” Professor Rai Mra, President of the Myanmar Medical Association, explains.
This project is based on 3 levers: Training community health workers and doctors; raising awareness among the population; and providing tools to help with the screening and management of patients.
Ms. Daw Tint is one of the patients who has benefited from this initiative. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. My mood became irritated, I became aggressive, not satisfied with myself.”
Suffering from psychosis for 20 years, Mrs. Daw Tint was able to avoid hospitalization during her last psychotic episode, thanks to early management of her condition.
Today, Mrs. Daw Tint is visited by community health worker, Yee Mar Thin, who identified her symptoms. “I use the smartphone provided by the project, I ask the questions from the form and fill the information about the patient. When I meet a suspected case I refer to the doctor. After the patient gets treatment from the doctor-I take care of the follow up.”
Mrs. Daw Tint is now followed up regularly by General Practitioner, Dr. Naing Lin Kyaw, whose practice is only a short walk from her home. “Previously I couldn’t treat psychosis and depression in my clinic. I had to refer patients to the hospital and specialist unit. It was not convenient for the patient. After the 5 day-training course, I can handle these diseases in my clinic and thanks to the tablet I received from the project, I can review the progress of my patient,” Dr Naing says.
For Professor Khin Maung Gyee, psychiatrist and Project Leader at Myanmar Medical Association, the project needs to raise awareness of the existence and understanding of this problem: “The project helps the community to reveal the hidden mental health patients. If we detect early and give systemic treatment then the disease will be cured.”
In just a few months, the project has already enabled the diagnosis of close to 300 patients. In the long term, the project’s objective is to diagnose and treat more than 1,500 patients.