In the context of the Strategy for Development of Samoa, the Government is conducting health reform to improve health services and strengthen its capacity to manage the health sector and coordinate international aid. Development partners are intensifying their support in the health sector. Major priorities for health are identified as strengthening of primary health care and health promotion. These are identified in the Health Sector Strategic Plan 1998-2003.
Several issues relevant to mental health in Samoa are highlighted in the 2003 Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) report:
- Injuries and death due to road accidents and domestic violence are increasing.
- Substance abuse is a growing problem.
- Despite awareness campaigns and regulations to limit the availability of poisonous substances, suicide remains a major problem, particularly among young people. New interdisciplinary initiatives supported by NGOs and civil society in general could have a positive effect in persuading young persons not to take their lives.
- Providing an effective response to mental health is another important issue. Insufficient understanding of mental disorders within the community can cause difficulties for the families with daily care of the patient. Although community-based mental-health-nursing services are being delivered, the services and guidance of a psychiatrist and psychologist are still lacking.
- There is an urgent need to review the mental health legislation and to develop a comprehensive mental health policy and strategy (this recommendation has now been acted upon).
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In Samoa, WHO provided technical assistance for the development of a National Mental Health Policy and Mental Health Law Reform. A situational analysis identified many of the strengths of the current mental health system, in particular the focus on primary care services.
In 2003 a national symposium was held in which all mental health stakeholders were invited to participate and discuss whether mental health is a priority issue in Samoa. Following this WHO financially and technically supported a workshop in 2005, during which key issues for policy and legislative reform were identified. Select members were identified to form a Working Committee to draft the mental policy and to work collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office on Mental Health Bill. From its establishment in February 2005 to December of that same year, the Committee worked on the formulation of the a Mental Health Policy with the technical assistance from the Policy Unit of the Ministry of Health and with support and comments from WHO. Consultation on the Policy with key stakeholders and the general public was conducted in February 2006 before submission for approval.
The Mental Health Policy Working Committee used the WHO Mental Health Mental Health Policy and Service Guidance Package to guide its work on Samoa’s Mental Health Policy. Samoa also adopted some strategies from this guidance package which are relevant to the country's situation.
The mental health policy was officially approved in June 2006 by the Cabinet Development Committee, which is the committee that approves all national policies.
The Mental Health Bill was approved by cabinet in 2005 and enacted by the Legislative Assembly of Samoa in Parliament on 2 February 2007. The law makes provisions for the care, support, treatment and protection of persons with a mental disorder. It strives for the elimination of discrimination, abuse, mistreatment and neglect of persons with a mental disorder. Other important objectives of law are to minimize restrictions upon the liberty of people with mental disorders, and to promote the respect and protection of their dignity and rights.
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