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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Finalising the WHO South-East Asia Regional Strategy on Prevention of Suicide

Meeting of Experts

New Delhi, India, 21-22nd April 2016

The above meeting was convened by the World Health Organisation, South-East Asia Regional Office (WHO SEARO) in New Delhi. Experts from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand attended the meeting. Representatives from the country offices of the WHO also attended. 

Among them was Prof Athula Sumathipala, Professor of Psychiatry and the Director, Internationalisation, at the Research Institute for Primary Care & Health Sciences, Keele University and also a Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Sumathipala is also an Emeritus Professor of Global Mental Health, Kings College London and the Hon Director of the Institute for Research and Development in Sri Lanka.

This meeting signified a positive step in the prevention of suicide in South-East Asia, a region comprising 11 countries and 26% of the global population. Up to 40% of global suicides are reported to occur in South-East Asian countries with 8 countries in particular contributing some of the highest rates of suicide. In South-East Asia the female suicide rate is also high compared to other parts of the world. Previously, Sri Lanka had the highest suicidal rate in the world; annual recorded suicides were close to 50/100,000 population. But since 1997 rates of suicide have decreased due to many significant steps and the determination of the Sri Lankan government. 

The Sri Lankan delegation attending the strategy meeting comprised Dr Neil Fernando (Psychiatrist), Senior Lecturer at the Kothalawela Defence University, Dr De Silava (Public Health Specialist, Director Mental Health Ministry of Health) Dr Sanjiwa Ranaweera (Public Health Specialist), Dr  Sudath Samaraweera (Public Health Specialist, Ministry of Health and Ex-Co member at the Institute for Research and Development in Sri Lanka). Dr Nazneen Anwar, Regional Adviser, Mental Health, WHO Regional Office for South- East Asia, took the leadership in this work.

Dr Samaraweera has an MD from Sri Lanka in which he carried out a psychological autopsy study and a PhD from Kings College London in which he tested a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy outreach approach for people with high risk of suicide. Prof Sumathipala was a co supervisor for both these studies. Both of them have contributed to the limited literature on suicide in Sri Lanka.

If you would like to know more about progress with this important work Prof. Sumathipala would welcome your comments and questions.

[Post written by Athula Sumathipala, Professor of Psychiatry]

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