Lao mother with child in baby sling

Psychiatry working group

Establishment of a basic psychiatric care system in Laos

A New Field of Activity

Psychiatry is the latest field of activity of the Swiss Laos Hospital Project. In Laos, there is practically no medical and nursing care for the mentally ill. The Swiss Laos Hospital Project therefore supports a project for basic development in psychiatry, which is being set up by a team of specialists in psychiatry and psychotherapy (Dr. med. Emilio Carlo Bolla, Dr. med. Toni Berthel and Dr. med. Rafael Traber). The area of child and adolescent psychiatry is supervised by Dr. med. Dagmar Pauli and Dr. med. Maurizia Franscini. In addition, Dr. Alphons Schnyder, our specialist on hospital management, is involved in the project as well.

Sign «Mental Health Ward»

Current situation of psychiatry in Laos

The incidence and prevalence of mental illness in Laos is comparable to neighboring countries, but there is a shortage of psychiatric care. There is only one physician specializing in psychiatry in Laos, and there is only one psychiatric clinic at Mahosot Hospital, consisting of twelve beds and a small outpatient clinic.

In the fall of 2018, the Ministry of Health therefore invited the Swiss Laos Hospital Project to submit proposals for collaboration in the field of mental health, thereby contributing to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this area.

Waiting area in front of the psychiatric ward


Approaches to Building Psychiatric Expertise

Our measures take effect at various levels:

At the strategic level, we support the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases of the Ministry of Health in planning national organizational measures as well as in developing specialized personnel.

At the level of center hospitals, we support the Mental Health Unit of Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane to develop its psychiatric expertise through practical and theoretical training. The child and adolescent psychiatry team supports the Children’s Hospital in Vientiane with regular online trainings in the establishment of a planned psychiatric department. In addition, a project is being set up to support the autism center in Vientiane.

At the provincial level, we are currently examining, as part of a pilot project with the Xieng Khouang Provincial Hospital in Phonsavan, how elementary psychiatric expertise can be built up even without specialized departments, thus ensuring basic psychiatric care.

Activities 2019/2020

February 2019
2-week exploratory mission to Vientiane and Phonsavan. Meeting with Prof. Bounnack Saysanasongkham, Director of the Department of Health Care and Rehabilitation at the Lao Ministry of Health. Meeting with representatives of the Non-Communicable Diseases Department of the Lao Ministry of Health. Meeting and first short bedside teaching and theoretical lessons for the staff of Mahosot Mental Health Unit. Visit to Phonsavan and meeting with the management of the Xieng Khouang Provincial Hospital and with medical and nursing staff (Dr. Emilio Bolla, MD; Dr. Alphons Schnyder).

March – October 2019
Development of a «Proposal for a Mental Health Collaboration Program» (Dr. Emilio Bolla, MD; Dr. Alphons Schnyder).

October 2019
Further meeting with Prof. Bounnack Saysanasongkham, Director of the Department of Health Care and Rehabilitation at the Lao Ministry of Health (Dr. Alphons Schnyder).

Oktober 2019
3-week assignment in Laos. Training and clinical activities at Xieng Khouang Provincial Hospital in Phonsavan. 4-day workshop and 3-day hands-on training at Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane for professionals from the Mental Health Unit as well as colleagues from other areas and other hospitals in Vientiane (Dr. Emilio Bolla, MD).

February 2020
10-day assignment in Laos and Thailand. 1 week training in Mahosot Hospital. Conducted the «1st Mahosot-SLHP Conference Day on Psychiatry and Mental Health». Meeting with Dr. Bouathep and Dr. Lavahn from non-communicable diseases team in Lao Ministry of Health. 2-day trip to Khon Khaen University in Thailand to evaluate possible future collaboration in postgraduate training of Lao physicians (Dr. Toni Berthel, MD; Dr. Emilio Bolla, MD; Dr. Rafael Traber, MD).

Training at Mahosot-Spital in February 2020