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Vanuatu is a stunningly beautiful tropical Melanesian country of just over 200,000 people spread across 100 islands. Its history spans from 19th century head‐hunters, to the formation of the New Hebrides by a ‘condominium’ of French and English rule, to independence in 1980, to recently being rated the place with the happiest people in the world. There are 22 doctors and about 450 nurses in the country.
In 2007 the World Health Organization initiated the Pacific Islands Mental Health Network (PIMHnet) to address the paucity of mental health care in the Pacific region. This network, which is funded by NZAID, aims to encourage the governments of the area to increase funding for their country’s mental health infrastructure and workforce, to instigate mental health policies and strategies at a primary care level, to use the WHO psychotropic medication list as their formulary and to teach mental health skills to primary care health professionals. The Ministry of Health in Vanuatu has taken up this challenge. Its mental health policy and strategy is in its final draft, it is in the process of increasing the formulary and with the help of NZAID it has begun the task of encouraging teaching in mental health to health professionals.
We are very blessed in Australia to have a high degree of public awareness about mental health, to have mental health teaching as part of the curriculum for undergraduate and postgraduate health professionals, to have a strong evidence‐based research base in mental health and to have government and community support for mental health issues at all levels. In Vanuatu there are no trained mental health professionals in the entire country, there is no knowledge in the community that mental illness might be the business of health professionals, and there are no words in Bislama even for depression, let alone more complex Western mental health concepts.