Mental health activity through support to a local NGO in Kashmir

After three preparatory visits to the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), India, and a workshop conducted by Kaz de Jong, the Mental Health expert from the MSF Medical Department in Amsterdam, MSF is now funding a community health project of the Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Health Association (J&K-VHA).

It is extremely difficult for an international organisation to get permission to carry out projects in the Kashmir Valley. J&K-VHA invited MSF to visit the Kashmir Valley. In 1999 it was suggested to the VHA-India to facilitate a small workshop in Srinagar on mental health where MSF could elaborate on its approach towards mental health programs.

The collaboration with the J&K-VHA will give MSF the opportunity to build on a mental health program. This will focus on grass roots psycho-social care and on training of community health workers, counsellors and doctors, working in the Kashmir Valley.

Since Independence in 1947, Kashmir has been a disputed region between India and Pakistan. The Kashmiri themselves strive for independence. The entire State of Jammu & Kashmir, especially the Kashmir Valley, has witnessed large scale political unrest and insurgence over the past decade, in which all involved parties have been accused of severe human rights abuses. The insurgence has caused a near total breakdown of the rural health infrastructure.

The violence has also resulted in chronic mental stress among the population. According to a study conducted by the in-charge of the Department of Psychiatry, there was a tenfold increase recorded in the number of psychiatric patients over four years (1990-1994). It is assumed that the actual number of patients is much higher, due to misdiagnose and lack of facilities in rural areas.