Alvi for integrated approach
to address mental health issues

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Thursday said that mental health illness was a major challenge and it required an integrated approach by all stakeholders, including relevant Ministries, Prime Minister’s Secretariat, NGOs, psychiatric associations and civil society to cater to the mental health needs of the country.

He highlighted that 24 percent population of the country was suffering from some form of mental health issues that needed immediate attention of the government, health professionals, civil society organizations, and the media. The President expressed these views while chairing a follow-up meeting on mental health, at Aiwan-e-Sadr here. Head of Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, Salman Sufi and representatives of the Pakistan Psychiatric Society and Taskeen Health Initiative attended the meeting via video link. Country Director of WHO, Dr Palitha Mahipala, President of Pakistani-American Psychiatric Association of North America, Muhammad Zeeshan, Consultant at the National Commission for Human Rights, Ghulam Murtaza, representatives of Pakistan Psychological Association and senior officials of the government were present during the meeting.

The participants emphasized the need for a collaborative care model to provide services to the people suffering from mental health issues. Salman Sufi briefed the meeting about the initiatives taken by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to launch Humraaz, a platform to access mental health services and a Mental Health Helpline to assist people affected by mental health illnesses. He informed that 140 psychiatrists had been registered as yet to provide relevant mental health services and counselling to people suffering from mental health problems. He further informed that the Prime Minister would launch the Mobile App/Web portal and 1166 toll-free helpline on March 23, 2023.

Speaking on the occasion, the President underscored that all programs and initiatives with regard to mental health issues needed to be combined to help address mental issues in the country. Appreciating the initiative taken by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on mental health and well-being, the President said that coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office was very important, adding that all the work should be pooled at the Prime Minister’s mental health program. He also lauded the efforts made by the NGOs and Taskeen Health Initiative that had done a tremendous job in this regard. Country Director of WHO praised the efforts made by the government and expressed his support for the initiative.

President for giant leap in digital technology for improved economy, service delivery: President Dr Arif Alvi also said for Pakistan, a big leap in digital technology was important to directly improve its economy and make progress in public service delivery. The president stressed that by leveraging digital technology, the country could explore advanced avenues of business in the revolutionalized world.

Addressing here at a seminar on ‘Digital System for public -Welfare, weaknesses and remedies’, the president said Pakistan needed to make early decisions in technology and keep pace with the fast-changing world. President Alvi said the country needed a “full-throttle acceleration” on expanding digitalization in areas of public service delivery, including online banking.

Lauding the talent of the nation, he said the country was “standing on the gold mine of people”. He said learning knowledge about FinTech (financial technology) and artificial intelligence could prove as a catalyst to progress. He said taking initiative in learning and getting the edge in technology was of foremost importance. In this regard, he emphasized working on intellectual ideas and early decisions on implementing digitalization strategy in diverse areas.

President Alvi, however, stressed that besides digitalization, the stakeholders needed to guide the consumers not to fall victim to online scams. He said scams could not be averted completely, however, their proportion to the delivery of services was important. He emphasized controlling online scams and frauds through continuous effort, including targeted messaging. He highlighted how effectively the 130 million targeted cellular texts on early prevention of breast cancer successfully relayed a powerful message among the general public.

The president said the people had already adopted cell phone technology, and there was a need to guide them about the benefits of advanced technology. He said that older people were more susceptible to online fraud and needed to be educated about it. President Alvi recalled how the Covid-19 pandemic forced the nation to engage in e-learning and in various online projects.

Executive Director State Bank of Pakistan, Syed Sohail Javaad, presented a comparison of the modern banking system for the period 2012 to 2022. He informed that in 2012 only 1.4 million customers used digital banking, whereas in 2022, their number increased to 12.4 million. He said transactions worth almost Rs 11 trillion were conducted in the year 2022 and added that the number of transactions had increased from 12 million in 2012 to 141 million in 2022. He apprised that the number of ATMs had increased from 5,500 to 17,000, while the SBP had issued NOCs to five digital banks.

Banking Mohtasib of Pakistan, Muhammad Kamran Shehzad, said despite the advancements in technology and digitalization of the banking sector, people in rural areas were deprived of digital banking services, and were not aware of digital banking frauds. He stated that customers should not share their personal banking information on telephones to avoid becoming victims of online fraud. He informed that since the establishment of the Banking Mohtasib of Pakistan, relief worth Rs 5 billion had been provided to the complainants. Secretary General Pakistan Banks Association, Taufeeq Hussain said that as a tool of financial inclusion, digital banking had become an integral part of the financial sector and was altogether different from traditional banking. He said digital banking played a critical role in the existing banking system, adding that it was convenient, efficient, speedy and cost-effective. The event was attended by representatives of commercial and digital banks, media, and the business community.