Resources for health priorities- supporting workforce development in Cambodia

April 19, 2016

Despite the large burden of disease of mental illness (globally a greater percentage than cardiovascular disease and twice as much as all cancers combined) many countries in our region do not have a proportionate resource allocation, resulting in extremely large gaps in treatment for people with a mental illness.

Amongst our neighbours, Australia has been able to allocate more resources than most to improving the lives of people with a mental illness, with investments into a wide range of effective treatments and health professionals who can help on the road to recovery.  During his lifetime, Australia’s own Prof Tom Trauer was a passionate researcher, teacher, mentor and clinician in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, who was known for his supportive nature, generosity and dedication to his work.  In 2014, the Thomas Trauer Grant was established to promote, provide and enable opportunities for mental health worker related education in the Asia Pacific region, particularly with a focus on mental health research, outcome measurement and program evaluation.

It was fitting that the inaugural project for this Grant was developed with colleagues in Cambodia, as Professor Trauer’s international work included consultation with leaders in Cambodia, undertaking substantial service development to ensure that districts and provincial level will have mental health and substance abuse services.

Prof Trauer worked with Dr. Sophal Chhit, now the Director of the newly established Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  Dr. Sophal describes workforce development as a key priority to address the treatment gap in Cambodia, and his work fostering the next generation of qualified mental health workers has been a challenge both in terms of professionalism and personal survival for the future Psychiatric work force of Cambodia.

Dr. Sophal partnered with the Thomas Trauer Fund to create an innovate tailored program for 3 young leaders in his team.  He observed that “this is a rare professional development opportunity for community based skills, including partnerships with families, carers and community groups, education and employment agencies, police and other health services that are an essential component of effective mental health services,”

Supported by Australian Red Cross Volunteer Robert Brooks, the Department’s Sao Chamroeun, Sok Hong and Pisey Huang visited Melbourne in March 2016 for an extremely full program of workshops and placements.  This included spending time with a wide range of St. Vincent’s mental health services, and also with GV Health, CoHealth, VicHealth.  A particular focus for the Cambodian team was the exploration of trauma informed service provision with engagement with Phoenix Australia, Victorian Transcultural Mental Health and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre’s health program.  More about the program here and here.

Despite the pace of the training program, the group still found some time to socialise, and a real highlight of the month was a relaxed dinner with the Trauer Family and St. Vincent’s team, where the conversations deepened from the professional into the personal.

For further information on the work of the Thomas Trauer Fund, to support this work or to collaborate on future work, please visit the Thomas Trauer Fund website.


St. Vincent's bears at graduation

St. Vincent’s bears- with the group at graduation