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World Health Day 2017: Depression: Let's talk

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World_Health_Day_2017-1April 2017- Jerusalem:  The Palestinian Ministry of health together with the World Health Organization and representatives from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Al Waqf Ministry, the Christian Islamic Organization in support of Jerusalem and UNRWA celebrated World Health Day 2017 with two events in the West Bank and Gaza to increase awareness and mobilize action around depression. Depression is a common mental health disorder, affecting more than 300 million people around the world. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the global burden of disease.

Every year, World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year a theme is selected for World Health Day that highlights a priority area of concern for WHO. World Health Day is an international campaign, inviting everyone – from community and political leaders to the public in all countries – to focus on a single health challenge with global impact. Focusing on important health issues, World Health Day provides an opportunity to start collective action to protect people's health and well-being. This year’s theme is depression. Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. The risk of becoming depressed is increased by multiple factors such as poverty, insecurity and conflict, unemployment, physical illness, gender-based violence and drug use. Depression causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally. Depression can be prevented and treated, and World Health Day highlights the ways that we can tackle depression together.

During the celebrations for 2017 World Health Day in Ramallah, Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, Head of Office for WHO in the occupied Palestinian territory, stated: “In conflict and chronic crisis contexts like Palestine, one in five people are affected by depression and anxiety disorders. Depression is by far the most common mental illness. Every dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work. We need to advocate for de-stigmatizing depression, and to provide a better understanding that with the right treatment depression is a curable disease.” Dr. Mahmoud Daher, Head of the WHO sub-office in Gaza, complimented the investments made in mental health services over the last 3 years in Gaza, referring to the achievement of integrating the mental health services into primary health care. 

Dr. Jawad Awwad, Minister of Health, emphasized the central role of the Palestinian Ministry of Health as the custodian for all health services, whether provided in the governmental sector, private sector, non-governmental sector, or with respect to the medical services provided by UNRWA for Palestinian refugees. He stressed the need for coordination and cooperation in tackling depression, and highlighted the importance of primary health care and public health in this regard: "Our current policy is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. This year we started implementing the family medicine program in primary health care centers, which provides a comprehensive and integrated approach, where patients are seen by the family doctor who is able to diagnose and follow up on community mental health problems."  

World_Health_Day_2017-2One of the campaign activities was a regional art competition for school children aged 8–18 years.  The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region includes 22 countries from which a panel of judges selected drawings, awarding five Palestinian students the top five ranks for different age categories in the region.   Awards to the winners were distributed during the celebration events with Ibrahim Tamim Shubair from Kamal Naser primary school in Gaza Strip winning the first prize for the age group 14-15, Asmaa Tahseen Yaqeen from Faisal Al-Husainy primary school in the West Bank winning the third prize for the age group 14-15, Leena Akram Al-sbakhy from Rafah preparatory school in Gaza Strip winning the fourth place for the age group 12-13,  Dania Esam Al-whaidy from Zaytoun preparatory school in Gaza Strip receiving a certificate of merit for the age group 14-15 and Nahed Hamdan Al-Najjar from  Um salama secondary school in Gaza Strip also receiving a certificate of merit for the age group 16-18.

Dr. Samah Jabr, Director of Mental Health in the Ministry of Health, declared: “On World Health Day we have the opportunity to communicate with policy makers in different sectors. We have the option to put public health on the national developmental agenda. We communicate with citizens via media and direct interaction to spread awareness of health issues affecting all of us. Thus, today we can speak openly about a condition that exists in every family, in every classroom and in every workplace.” WHO has been working to promote and strengthen mental health services in Palestine since 2004. In 2017 WHO started a new mental health project phase “Building Palestinian resilience: improving psychosocial and mental health responses to emergency situations” with financial support from the European Union. This one and a half year new project will build on the three specific priorities of the National Mental Health Strategy 2015-2019, which highlights the importance of continuing the integration of mental health services within primary health care facilities, in order to promote the quality of community mental health services and enhance emergency preparedness and crisis intervention.

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