Cambodia’s mental health care program took a significant step forward Friday with the first-ever graduation of locally trained psychiatrists.
“Some said it was too early [to begin training],” said Dr Edvard Hauff, a Norwegian psychiatrist with the Cambodia Mental Health Training Program. “But we proved today it can be done.”
The training program, funded by the Norwegian government, is a joint project by the International Organization of Migration, the Cambodian government and the University of Oslo.
The project began in 1994, with 10 general practitioners receiving instruction from professors around the region.
With the completion of their studies, the graduates bring the number of Cambodian mental health experts to 11, said Hauff. Previously, Cambodia had only one psychiatrist, a Russian-trained doctor who is the head of the mental health outpatient clinic at Preah Norodom Sihanouk Hospital.
Two Cambodian psychiatrists who worked at the Takhmau mental hospital in the 1960s died during the Pol Pot regime.
Psychiatrists and other mental health care workers are badly needed, experts say, as a large number of Cambodians are believed to suffer from mental health problems caused by stress, poverty and the trauma of Cambodia’s recent history.
One of the graduates will go to Battambang, where a mental health clinic has been set up at the provincial hospital, said Hauff.
Other graduates will be based in Phnom Penh but also will work in the provinces, where mental health services are scarce. Hauff said there are plans for mental health clinics in Kompong Cham and Kampot provinces.
Two of the new psychiatrists will go to Australia for further training, he said.
A second group of doctors will begin training in September, thanks to a recent decision by the Norwegian government to continue funding the project, Hauff said.