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International Medical Corps Advocates for Innovative Approach to Improve Mental Health Care in Middle East

By: Justyna Al-Samawi, Volunteer, International Medical Corps Jordan

January 3, 2012 - In early December, International Medical Corps participated in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) forum entitled “New Approaches to Working with Families and Children”. Held in Amman, Jordan the forum gathered humanitarian and development agencies seeking to share innovative methods of supporting vulnerable communities in the country. During the two-day event International Medical Corps shared our successful “Community and Rehabilitative Approach” emphasizing the importance of the Case Management model to complete the continuum of care.

As part of a holistic approach to health, International Medical Corps incorporates mental health and well-being into our programs to address the psychosocial needs of disaster and conflict survivors and help those with pre-existing mental disorders. A longtime humanitarian resource for refugees living in Jordan, we use our primary health care infrastructure in the country to operate a comprehensive case management system for those suffering from mental illness. Based on our breadth of expertise in mental health care in Jordan and throughout the Middle East, International Medical Corps was invited by UNRWA to share our best practices at the forum to better address challenges facing refugee communities.

International Medical Corps Mental Health/Psychosocial and Protection Advisor Mary Jo Baca presented the “Community Mental Health: A Continuum of Care Model” which International Medical Corps has successfully used to provide support to vulnerable communities in Jordan, Gaza, Libya and Haiti. This approach emphasizes the Case Management method which has improved outcomes for our program beneficiaries by linking them to appropriate and accessible services and supporting them at every stage of the process.

“The trauma of armed conflict and the loss of life-long social surroundings often leads to increases in mental illness among refugee populations and can exacerbate symptoms among those already suffering from mental diseases,” said Baca. “Case managers, supervised by licensed mental health professionals, assess mental health and psychosocial needs and develop a plan that links patients to appropriate services. What’s more, they serve as an advocate for patients and monitor services throughout the entire cycle of care to ensure sustained care.”

Established in 1949, UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some five million registered Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. The recent forum which provided a platform for sharing best practices and innovative methods of supporting the most disadvantaged families in Jordan, allowed professionals to improve upon their services.

“Finding venues for open dialogue and exchange of information only improves International Medical Corps’ work and our delivery in the social services,” said Baca. “During this forum I observed such progressive interaction. It was a motivating two days and a much needed initiative.”

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, International Medical Corps’ mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance.