“Mental Health for Universal Health Coverage” (MH4UHC)

In low resource settings, less than 20% of people with mental disorders have access to mental health services. Building on best practices and experience from Swiss supported programs at country level, the Special Initiative for Mental Health aims to increase access to care for people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries. Priority areas are advocacy for investments in mental health, evidence-based policy formulation, and integration of mental health services at primary healthcare level.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Mental health & well-being
Basic health infrastructure
Primary health care
01.11.2019 - 31.10.2024
CHF  3’975’000

Mental, neurological and substance use disorders make up 10% of the global burden of disease. Depression alone affects over 264 million people worldwide, and almost 800,000 people die by suicide every year. The situation is exacerbated in conflict settings, where 1 in 5 people are estimated to experience mental disorders. Left untreated, mental disorders result in individual suffering, increased poverty, weakened social fabrics and economic impacts. Global economic losses attributable to mental health conditions between 2011 and 2030 are estimated to be US$ 16 trillion. Still, mental health remains low on the public health agenda and results in more than 80% of people with a mental disorder without access to support - a situation exacerbated in low income countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has added substantial strain on the global population’s mental health and on mental health services. In addition, many mental health services have been halted or resources diverted to respond to COVID-19 needs.

Complimentary to work carried out at country level by WHO, including in collaboration with SDC, a Special Initiative for Mental Health has been developed. The Initiative aims to improve access to quality and affordable community-based mental health services for 100 million more people via two key strategies: advancing mental health policy, advocacy and human rights; and scaling up interventions and services across community-based, primary and specialist settings.

SDC mental health programmes, such as those in Somalia, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine, will inform and benefit work of the Initiative. In particular, learnings about community-based approaches, multi-sector coordinated care, suicide prevention, and SDCs experience in global advocacy and policy dialogue for mental health system reform, will form a foundation for strong collaboration and further scale up of successful mental health programmes.

Latin America has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its significant consequences on mental health. The program offers a unique opportunity for Paraguay and other countries in the region to strengthen their public mental health system in order to effectively respond to future emergencies such as COVID-19.

Objectives By 2028, universal health coverage ensures access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions for at least 100 million more people in at least 12 low- and middle-income countries.
Target groups

People living with mental disorders, especially the most vulnerable ones in low- and middle-income countries

Caregivers and families of people living with mental disorders

Policy-makers leading mental health system reform

Health staff across different health cadres, ranging from community health workers, mental health nurses, primary health care attendants, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists.

Medium-term outcomes

1.   Country, regional and global advocacy to promote normative and policy development are updated and strengthened to support the scale up of quality and affordable care for mental health conditions

2.   National mental health legislation, policies, plans and advocacy efforts are assessed and updated, and human rights are advanced

Quality, affordable mental health care services and interventions are scaled up in community-based, primary and specialist health settings, including remote support for COVID-19 response and recovery.


Expected results:  

· 2019 data of the WHO Mental Health Atlas
and of financial investment cases and/or
Best Buys cost-effectiveness reports elaborated.

·  Normative guidelines for mental health services
published and applied in targeted countries.

·  Quality mental health services available and
accessible for all at community, primary and
secondary care levels. Mental health and
psychosocial support integrated in (post-)
emergency responses.

·  Additional outreach programs for specific
groups of vulnerability (e.g. injecting drug
users, adolescent girls, survivors of sexual
violence) carried out

·  Campaigns to promote mental health
carried out. Groups of people with lived
experience of mental health conditions
established and empowered.

·  Service user rights and community-based
anti-stigma/mental health advocacy campaigns
established and promoted. Users’ feedback
mechanisms in place.

- Competency-based training for mental health
care personnel, including workforce for psychological
interventions and in protection of rights of users, provided.

Results from previous phases:  

The inception phase has succeeded to:

·  Select six target countries (Bangladesh, Jordan, Paraguay, the Philippines, Ukraine, Zimbabwe), undertake rapid assessments for each country, organize a kick-off meeting, and carry out multi-stakeholder consultations to draft programs’ designs;

·  Complete a financial investment case for government-level advocacy in the Philippines;

·  Carry out regional consultations to update the WHO Mental Health Action Plan to 2030; collect data and carry out early data analysis for the Mental Health Atlas 2019;

·  Design and progress on common goods for health such as the WHO Landmark Report on the State of the World’s Mental Health;

-  Carry out multiple advocacy opportunities to encourage further global and donor investment in mental health.

Directorate/federal office responsible SDC
Credit area Development cooperation
Project partners Contract partner
United Nations Organization (UNO)
  • World Health Organization

Other partners
Champions for mental health: UN Secretary General, Born This Way Foundation founded by Lady Gaga and her mother. 
Coordination with other projects and actors Ministries of Health, NGOs, Service Users’ groups, local associations
Budget Current phase Swiss budget CHF    3’975’000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF    2’425’000