WHO Supports Ukraine By Organizing A Knowledge Exchange With Mental Health Policymakers In Belgium

Representatives of half a dozen Ukrainian organizations visited Belgian mental health service facilities as part of a knowledge exchange programme to learn about the structure, governance and policies that enabled Belgium’s mental health reform and to gather experiences that will benefit the process of mental health service transformation in Ukraine.

The cooperation with Belgian partners was launched as part of the pan-European Mental Health Coalition by WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge in 2021. A first high-level study visit has just been completed, resulting in new networks between policy-makers and emerging opportunities that address their current needs.“We are honoured to support Ukraine in this vital knowledge and experience transformation that will have a profound effect on mental health care provision in the country,” said Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

Representatives of the Office of the First Lady of Ukraine, the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Barrier-Free Environment, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Policy, the Department of Health of the Kyiv oblast state administration and the WHO Country Office in Ukraine visited mental health service providers and held productive discussions with Belgian partners who are responsible for implementing the reform. Visits to the Emergo network for adults, the Uneco network for children, and to the University Psychiatric Centre Duffel provided insights into how service providers, users and partners can share information and ensure that various needs of the patients are met in a timely and efficient manner.

“This study visit gave us an opportunity to establish a constructive dialogue with Belgian network representatives and gain invaluable insights into its coordination and management,” underlined Alisa Ladyk-Bryzghalova, Mental Health Programme Lead at the WHO Country Office in Ukraine.

In total, there are 20 networks for adults and 11 networks for children/adolescents operating in Belgium. A single network coordinates a range of public and private, specialist and non-specialist first-line care, outreach and office-based, health and social services, and has links with sheltering, housing and residential care facilities. It also exchanges information with schools and cultural and educational centres. The network offers people with mental health conditions access to primary health care, well-being centres or other services in their respective communities, which can provide basic support and refer them for specialized care if needed. Outreach services provided by the community mental health teams consult with service users and gradually replace inpatient services and office-based mental health care.

The Ukrainian delegation had an opportunity to study how the network functions on both a vertical and horizontal level. The horizontal level ensures collaborative decision-making with regional ministries and partners, while the vertical level emphasizes direct communication with the national ministry and office for reform. The methodology and approaches to managing the network were presented to Ukrainian partners. Mental health care policy-makers will continue with the targeted training programme to start the process of transforming mental health service provision in Ukraine.

The study visit was prepared under the leadership of Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health of Belgium, and Dr Bernard Jacob, Federal Coordinator of the Mental Health Care Reform in Belgium, as a follow-up to the commitment made at the meeting of Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians and First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska earlier this year.