10 October 2007More than 60 per cent of people globally who suffer from mental disorders are not receiving treatment, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging an increase in resources devoted to mental health care. “We have a pressing obligation to scale up care and services for mental disorders, especially among the disadvantaged, while stepping up efforts to protect the human rights of those affected,” Mr. Ban said in his message for World Mental Health Day, observed each year on 10 October. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most middle and low-income countries devote less than 1 per cent of their health expenditure to mental health. The agency defines mental health as a state of well-being in which individuals can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and is able to contribute to the community. Mental disorders comprise a wide range of problems with different symptoms but are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others, says WHO. Touching on this year’s theme for the Day which focuses on the impact of culture and diversity on mental health, Mr. Ban noted that in today’s culturally interconnected world, people are competing for the same resources as they struggle to maintain their own cultures or fit into new ones. “Dislocation from native communities, rejection by the host community and difficulties in adapting to the cultural norms of the host society are intensely stressful, and can contribute to mental illness in those who are vulnerable,” he stated. This makes it all the more important to develop “culturally competent mental health care services.” The challenges in this regard include the fact that resources for mental health are “scarce,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the treatment gap – the proportion of those who need but do not receive care – is more than 60 per cent. In addition, the rate of mental disorders and the need for care is highest among disadvantaged people, who are also the groups with the lowest access to appropriate services. The fear of stigma leads many to avoid seeking care, he added. As to how culture and diversity influence many aspects of mental health, he observed that culture not only determines what is seen as “normal” and “abnormal” within a given society, but it also affects how individuals manifest and communicate symptoms, styles of coping, family and community support and willingness to seek treatment. To overcome these barriers, he advocated approaches that incorporate cultural backgrounds and beliefs, address language barriers and create culturally sensitive forms of dialogue, as well as incorporating cultural sensitivity in training, social policy and service provision.
‹ › Yaya Touré presented as UN Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi. Photo: UNEP International football star Yaya Touré today joined the roster of Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), pledging to combat the illegal ivory trade that sees thousands of African elephants slaughtered each year.“Poaching threatens the very existence of the African elephant and if we do not act now we could be looking at a future in which this iconic species is wiped out,” said Mr. Touré, who was African Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and an inspirational figure for Manchester City and his national side Côte d’Ivoire.“I became a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador to spread the message that this poaching – and other forms of wildlife crime – is not only a betrayal of our responsibility to safeguard threatened species, but a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries,” he added. Increased poaching and loss of habitats are decimating African elephant populations, especially in Central African countries, according to a report released earlier this year at a meeting of the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The UN estimates that over 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in monitored sites in 2011 alone. Overall figures may be much higher, UNEP noted in a news release. “The extent of the killings now far exceeds the natural population growth rates, putting elephants at risk of extinction, especially in Central and Western Africa. But even previously secure populations, such as those in East Africa, are now under threat,” the agency warned. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the agency is honoured that Mr. Touré has agreed to be a Goodwill Ambassador. “His personal commitment to an environmentally sustainable lifestyle and his global status as an internationally renowned sportsman makes him a particularly powerful African voice to speak and inspire action on the environmental challenges and the solutions to these challenges.” The illegal ivory trade has tripled since 1998, according to the report. Criminal networks are responsible for the illegal trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia, and large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011. UNEP said that the international community is looking at measures to address the crisis, including improved law-enforcement across the entire illegal ivory supply chain and training of enforcement officers in the use of tracking, intelligence networks and innovative techniques, such as forensic analysis.Strengthened national legislative networks, better international collaboration across range States, transit countries and consumer markets, as well as action to fight collusive corruption, identifying syndicates and reducing demand are also vital, the agency noted. UNEP’s roster of Goodwill Ambassadors includes renowned personalities such as Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, United States actor Don Cheadle, Chinese actress Li Binging, French photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand and Indian economist Pavan Sukhdev, all of whom help generate public awareness and understanding of environmental causes.
“This seven-year war has left a colossal human tragedy in its wake. For the sake of the living, it is high time to end this devastating conflict,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi underscored.The conflict – which broke in the wake of massive anti- and pro-Government street protests across the country in 2011 – reaches “a depressing anniversary” this month.The High Commissioner painted a grim picture of the relentless suffering of Syrian civilians and denounced the ongoing brutality as a shameful failure of political will and a new low in Syria’s long-running conflict.“There are no clear winners in this senseless pursuit of a military solution. But the losers are plain to see – they are the people of Syria,” he added.With 69 per cent of civilians inside the country languishing in extreme poverty, conditions are worse than ever. Ninety per cent of families now spend more than half their annual income on food as prices are, on average, eight times higher than pre-crisis levels.Moreover, some 5.6 million people lack security or basic rights and require humanitarian assistance.While UNHCR and other humanitarian actors are making every effort to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people in dire need inside Eastern Ghouta and other besieged parts of the country, access to these populations remains woefully inadequate.On 5 March, a humanitarian convoy delivering aid to besieged Eastern Ghouta was cut short amidst ongoing shelling and subsequent attempts have been thwarted.UNICEF/Amer Al ShamiIn December 2015, a mother loads preserved food supplies in a truck as the family prepares to move out of Nashabieh village to a neighbouring safer town within besieged East Ghouta, Syria. Almost 400,000 people are trapped in besieged locations.“Humanitarian access to those in need must be guaranteed. People must be allowed to leave to seek refuge and civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals and schools must be protected at all costs,” Mr. Grandi maintained.Meanwhile, the hopes of millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq who dream of returning home when conditions are safe are being dashed.“With fighting in parts of Syria as fierce as at any point during the conflict, refugees are understandably still too frightened to return,” Mr. Grandi continued, noting that UNHCR is preparing to assist in returns for when the security situation improves.As conditions for millions of Syrians in exile grow more desperate, the vast majority live below the poverty line and more than three-quarters sheltering in Jordan and Lebanon are unable to meet their basic food, shelter, health or education needs.Although host countries lay on second shifts to accommodate the refugees, 43 per cent of 1.7 million school-aged Syrian are out of school.“While the focus is on the devastation inside Syria, we should not forget the impact on the host communities in the neighbouring countries and the effect that so many years of exile has had on refugees,” Mr. Grandi reminded.Turning to an upcoming international conference in Brussels on supporting the future of Syria and the region, he asserted that it must result in a boost of financial and development assistance.“As long as there is no political solution to the conflict, the international community must step up its investment in the host countries,” the High Commissioner concluded.