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Dhaka Tribune

Roundtable: Mental wellbeing key to achieving Smart Bangladesh 2041

Discussants say although Bangladesh has adequate policies, strategic plans and laws to address and tackle mental health issues, their implementation remains elusive. This is the first of a two-part production

Update : 20 Oct 2022, 11:50 AM

Addressing and preventing mental health issues among children and adults is key to aiding them in their development as smart citizens and establishing Bangladesh as a knowledge-based economy and innovative nation under the vision of Smart Bangladesh 2041, experts and stakeholders said in a roundtable earlier this month. 

The a2i program under the ICT division of the Government of Bangladesh organized the roundtable, titled “Positive Pathways of Mental Health and Wellbeing for the SMART Bangladesh 2041”,  on October 11 to mark World Mental Health Day. 

The roundtable discussion was organized  by a2i in partnership with International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) and USAID. Dhaka Tribune was the strategic partner in this event. 

 The event was attended by representatives from different government ministries, UN, INGO, Private Organizations.

Although Bangladesh has adequate policies, strategic plans and laws to address and tackle mental health issues, the implementation of those policies remains elusive, they said during the roundtable. 

“Over 18% of Bangladeshi adults are suffering from mental health issues,” he said in his keynote speech. 

Among them, over 90% of patients don’t have access to mental health care services, he added.

Social stigma also prevents many people from seeking help, Dr Helal said.

He stressed the need to include mental health care services at both the primary and tertiary levels. 

Experts also called for initiatives to bolster manpower and provide adequate mental health services to people in need. 

Currently, Bangladesh has only one mental health professional for every 800,000 people, according to a report by the World Health Organization. 

Dr Khaleda Islam, former director (Primary Health Care) at Directorate General of Health Services, said short-term training sessions can be organized for existing primary healthcare officials to address the problem of manpower shortages in mental healthcare services. 

“We need to accelerate the training process for healthcare professionals to bolster our mental health workforce,” she said. 

As part of ensuring proper healthcare services for people suffering from mental health issues, experts emphasized the importance of proper dissemination of information. 

They also recommended proper training sessions for school teachers on mental health related challenges to address the prevalence of mental health issues among children. 

Speakers at the conference further highlighted the need for telemedicine services to provide direct mental healthcare services to the people in the rural area where there’s a shortage of mental health services and officials. 

They also highlighted the need for integration of mental health issues in the MBBS curriculum. 

State Minister for the ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak addressed the roundtable as the chief guest. 

The government is striving to deliver mental healthcare to all of Bangladesh's 170 million people by harnessing the power of technology, he said during his speech.

He said the immense power of information technology - including social media, AI and machine learning - would allow Bangladesh to scale solutions to meet society-wide mental healthcare needs.

Notable quotes

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP State Minister for ICT Division, Government of Bangladesh Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

I think it is one of the responsibilities of the Bangladesh government to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of 17 crore people to make it a smart Bangladesh. And for that I will do whatever support is required from the ICT division. 

Dr Mekhala Sarkar Associate Professor, National Institute of Mental Health Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Addressing and preventing mental health issues among children and adults is crucial to help them grow as smart citizens and establish Bangladesh as a knowledge-based economy and an innovative nation under the 'Smart Bangladesh 2041' vision.

Kamrun Nahar Senior Strategic Advisor, Human Development Media Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

From a2i, we’re trying to disseminate knowledge through mass campaigns to make people aware about mental health issues.

Abu Sayeed Asiful Islam Associate Editor Dhaka Tribune Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Media can help overcome mental health related stigma through dissemination of information and familiarization of the issue for the general public as well as the creation of a sense of awareness and duty of care among all of us, the society at large.

Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed Associate Professor National Institute Of Mental Health Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Although Bangladesh has adequate policies, strategic plans and laws to address and tackle mental health issues, the implementation of those policies remains elusive. And we need a separate directorate for mental health care which will help implement the existing policies. 

Professor Dr Robed Amin Line Director Ncdc Program Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We need a permanent directorate or a central secretariat to help address mental health issues as well as implement the existing operational plan to tackle mental health issues. We can integrate mental health care services to our telemedicine services to ensure access to underprivileged people

Dr Khaleda Islam Director, Primary Health Care (Retd.), DGHS Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We need to review the existing essential service package and incorporate mental health at primary health care settings. Additionally, we need to accelerate the training process for healthcare professionals to bolster our mental health workforce.

Dr Mohammad Tariqul Alam General Secretary Bangladesh Association Of Psychiatrists Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We need to incorporate mental health related issues in our MBBS curriculum which would in turn help bolster our mental health workforce in rural areas.

Dr AKM Reazul Hasan Member (Primary Education), National Curriculum & Textbook Board Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We’re working on a framework to integrate mental health related issues into our NCTB curriculum. Besides, it is necessary to train and increase awareness among our teachers regarding mental health.

Dr Nahid Chowdhury Director Health Programs Bangladesh Red Crescent Society Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Denial and social stigma have been identified as major obstacles in the path to recovery from mental health issues.  We need to increase awareness regarding mental health related issues and work at every level to ensure proper access to mental health care services.

Syed Mujibul Huq Additional Secretary, Health Services Division Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

There is no central governing body to monitor and implement mental health strategic plans which is crucial to ensure effective implementation of strategies.

Dr AQM Shafiul Azam Director (Planning & Development) Department of Secondary & Higher Education Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We need to empower our future generation by building their problem-solving capacity so that they can overcome any uncertainty in future. Teachers  should play the role of a facilitator to help them grow as creative, innovative and smart citizens by addressing and helping tackle their mental health issues.

Dr Dewan Md. Humayun Kabir Project Director (Joint Secretary), Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

We need to address resource scarcity to tackle the mental health problem which would help us achieve our SDG-2030 goal of reducing mortality from non-communicable diseases and promoting mental health.

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