USA-CFI Leads National Mental Health Digitalization: 24th WAPR Conference and AI4PEP Project

Photos Courtesy of Department of Health (Philippines). In photos: DOH, NCMH, USA-CFI, and partner agencies during the 24thWAPR Conference.

The digitalization of Philippine mental health was the theme of discussions at the 24th Annual Conference of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation, (WAPR) Philippines, a non-government organization, on 27-28 November 2023 at the Richmond Hotel, San Miguel Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig City.

The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), representing the government sector and the Center for Informatics (CFI), University of San Agustin (USA), Iloilo, representing the academe, collaborated with the WAPR in holding this conference.

One hundred participants consisting of professionals, practitioners, advocates and researchers in mental health from the academe, non-government and government organizations participated in the Conference. Among the participating organizations were the Philippine Neurological Association, the Philippine Psychiatric Society, the Dementia Society of the Philippines, the Child and Adolescent Neurological Society of the Philippines, the Philippine Mental Health Association, the Alban Foundation, and academic institutions such as the Ateneo, De La Salle, UST and UP, and government organizations represented were the Department of Health (DOH) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR), among others.

At the Conference, two international resource persons shared their perspectives in digitalizing mental health information from global and regional perspectives:  Dr.  Anil Thapliyal, the Executive Director of eMHIC (eMental Health International Collaborative) and Professor Andrew Greenshaw, a psychiatrist and faculty of the University of Alberta in Canada and Scientific Director of the APEC Regional Hub on Mental Health.

eMHIC is a “global charitable organization dedicated to improving mental health outcomes for all by harnessing digital technologies.” It is an international group of leaders and experts, working towards a future where everyone has access to safe and effective digitally-enabled support to promote mental well-being and recovery at a time and place of their choice. Internationally recognized as the global peak body in eMental Health, eMHIC aims to facilitate digital mental health collaboration and knowledge exchange across borders, create robust collaborative networks of experts and thought leaders, promote self-help solutions, foster innovation, raise awareness and generate international best practices. The NCMH has been a member of eMHIC since 2022.

The 24th WAPR Conference marks a milestone in the national mental health movement because it advances the fulfillment of the Philippine Mental Health Law of 2018 which mandated the National Center for Mental Health to develop the Mental Health Information System (MHIS).  In collaboration with WAPR, a private not-for-profit organization, and the CFI, an academic institution, the MHIS and this conference represents the intersectoral collaboration of government, NGO and academia.

Notably, the Conference highlights the harnessing of technology to reach those unreached by mental health care in the Philippines such as the indigenous people of Panay, Guimaras and Negros islands. The ATIPAN project of the CFI shares proof of this concept. Filipinos in remote areas such as the Ati people can benefit from health services (including mental health) through technology-based delivery. The CFI seeks to scale up the delivery of psychiatric services to all LGUs and utilize the data generated for mental health care resource planning, as laid out in the Negros Occidental Mental Health Information Resource (NOMHIR) project. These are parts of their collaborative project on Artificial Intelligence for Pandemic and Epidemic Preparedness (AI4PEP) funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), an agency of the government of Canada, via York University in Toronto, Ontario. The project utilizes telehealth data for health monitoring and predicts the mental outcome of the next public health emergency, with concomitant modeling of the required resource mobilization.

With this project, the NCMH-WAPR-CFI consortium became a member of an international network of artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners for public health, the Global South AI4PEP Network, spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. The network’s global project lead, Dr. Jude Kong, gave a virtual message of encouragement and excitement at the launch along with funding agency (IDRC, York University) officers Dr. Chaitali Sinha and Dr. Vinitha Gengatharan.

The World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation, a non-government organization collaborates with the NCMH and the CFI in pushing the frontiers of digitalization in mental health. Together with CFI, it provides technical support to the NCMH in the development of the MHIS. The 24th Conference seeks to take stock of current efforts to use technology in mental health service delivery, especially to unreached populations.