12 September 2014



Mark Van Ommeren, for the World Health Organization (WHO),  gave an update on the mental health situation in Gaza following the recent conflict. He emphasized the difficulty of the recent war for the civil population who had experienced a high level of violence.  At no time had there been a possibility to escape the conflict which brought along many human losses and extensive destruction of private or public property, such as livelihood or schools.

In total, the mental suffering in Gaza was grasped as enormous: most notably, a lack of perspective on the future and a fear of further violence were attested.  Today, the WHO published an account called ‘Due to the War’ on its website, including personal stories and best estimates of people with mental health difficulties.  It was expected that in Gaza, one in five people – in comparison to one in ten globally – had mental health problems which were severe enough to warrant access to mental health services.  Development of adequate mental health services in Gaza was therefore assessed as vital.

In conflict areas, agencies tended to provide short-term treatment and immediate support but often omitted to focus on long-term support for conflict affected people which were needed to treat war traumas successfully.  Thus, the appearance of most common mental disorders, for instance depression, anxiety or psychosis, was facilitated. Generally, societies which had experienced conflicts had many more needs for mental health services to recover from psychological consequences of war emergencies.

For the previous ten years, the WHO, with support from the European Commission, had been working on mental health services in Gaza in terms of improving the mental health care system by guaranteeing the availability of respective facilities and training mental health care professionals.  In the context of the latest violence in Gaza, the WHO was working closely with UNICEF to guide governmental and non-governmental bodies in assuring an efficient coordination of health care support activities.  In numbers, the amount of health care centres, which included mental health departments, had risen from 28 to 43 since the previous war in Gaza.  If funds were to become available, they should be used to install mental health departments in all available health care centres. At the same time, the WHO sought to expand access to rehabilitation centres which focused on the treatment of war specific traumas.

Given those circumstances, the WHO needed to cooperate with the Ministry of Health in order to create awareness of people’s mental health needs.  The aim was to generate a long-term interest in peoples’ mental health needs which would not go away after the end of a violent conflict.  In brief, the goal of the WHO and cooperating key partners was to provide a sustainable mental health care system for Gaza.

Asked for more details on mental illnesses, Dr. Van Ommeren said that women reported more symptoms than men, which made them a particular vulnerable group. Secondly, children had also developed mental health disorders, which had was assessed as problematic, since their experiences and traumas would affect the future of the nation.