China Australia Partnership Story in Mental Health

October 11, 2012

“We work now as one team, not Chinese not Australian but a team that understands each other’s strengths and needs and is focused on improving the lives of the most neglected in all populations – people with mental illness,” Professor Ma Hong, Executive Director, Institute of Mental Health, Peking University.

Since the Sino-Australia workshop on mental illness held in Beijing in October 2002 to the China-Australia Health Policy Dialogue, held in Beijing in April, 2011, it has now been 10 years of fruitful partnership between the National Institute of Mental Health, China and Asia Australia Mental Health.

The recent Health Policy Dialogue hosted by the Ministry of Health China and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, significantly included Mental Health on the agenda as both Minister Roxon and Minister Chen confirmed a keen interest for both countries to collaborate further in mental health. This recognition is based on the rich harvest of remarkable service changes, improved outcomes for population health and 10 years of friendship between international colleagues in mental health.

Now, the China Australia program in mental health covers 680 districts and counties in 161 cities/provinces and serves a population of 330 million

It was back in October 2003 that the Ministry of Health PRC made a decision to invest consecutively for 3 years to rebuild public health system in China. At that time, mental health was not included in the traditional public health system; funding for development of services and workforce was extremely difficult in direct comparison to other communicable disease programs.

Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Peking University, Prof. Yu Xin had experienced the public health system in Victoria first-hand. He had completed psychiatric specialization studies in 1996, supervised by University of Melbourne’s Professor Ed Chiu. This direct relationship between colleagues led to an international collaborative effort to develop the much needed model for mental health sector reform in China. Key stakeholders for China’s mental health program visited Melbourne for site visits and systemic management study, discussions with key Victorian government, academic and NGO personnel to explore the possibilities of what China could learn from Victorian community mental health model and how to apply it into China’s context.

An historic milestone was in September 2004, when the program for mental health service reform became the only non-communicable disease program included in China’s national public health program. Mental health had become officially integrated into public health.

Named the 686 Program after its initial funding of CNY 6·86 million, China’s reform program was managed by The National Centre for Mental Health. After pilot sites with a range of program designs, workforce training, monitoring in the field, advocacy through international and joint research publications and presenting at annual national program meetings, the 686 Project is now the national government model for China. It operates in all provinces servicing the entire population – the largest mental health reform program ever undertaken globally. The international partnership has shown that China can effectively improve the lives of people with a mental illness and that treatment in the community given adequate resourcing is efficient, humane, economical and sustainable.

From a psychosocial response to the disaster of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a deadly quake that killed an estimate of 68,000 people in the Sichuan province, to the growing interest in recovery based practice; Australia and China have been actively striving for mutually beneficial exchanges and sustainable investment in workforce and system changes.

The POST program has provided a unique opportunity for Chinese clinicians to to experience and take advantage of the active development of community care in Victoria. In 2011, six colleagues have participated in the POST program as clinical leaders and key project staff to not only address priority regional issues but to build partnerships and linkages internationally that will contribute to a common goal. The Guangdong Melbourne Working Committee, inaugurated in September 2010 and chaired by Dr. Jia Fujun is a key example of ongoing partnerships between Australia and China.