Support for the mental health system in Bosnia and Herzegovina: SDC and four cantons sign an agreement

Bern, Press release, 25.02.2011

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva and Jura have agreed to work together to help strengthen the mental health system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The agreement they have signed calls for joint financial and technical support to improve access to services in this field and their quality. The new agreement is an extension of cooperation that has existed between the cantons and the SDC for a period of several years, notably in Eastern Europe. It also marks a “first” since four cantons are associated with the Confederation in this cooperative venture.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s public health system is currently facing severe problems, notably in the area of mental health. A result of the conflict that shook the former Republic of Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1995, this situation is in part also due to the high level of unemployment together with widespread poverty. The increase in alcohol abuse and drug addiction is particularly noticeable among young adults.  

The SDC has been active in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a number of years. Switzerland provided emergency aid before and after the war and has provided aid for reconstruction amounting to CHF 365 million. Since 1999 the emphasis has shifted to long-term assistance, focusing in particular on reforming the public health system. In so far as the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva and Jura are concerned, as of 2007 they decided to work together in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the area of mental health, which is one of the main health sector priorities for the authorities of this country.

In response to a request from the Bosnian authorities, who wish to develop a mental health care system which is more decentralised and in line with European standards, the project supported by the Confederation was developed by the SDC together with the four Swiss cantons and the health authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim is to improve the training of local health and social service professionals while strengthening infrastructure at the municipal and communal levels (day care centres, safe houses). Another aim is to combat the stigmatisation of persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

A sum of around CHF 4 million has been budgeted to cover the first three-year period (June 2010 to May 2013). The SDC is contributing 84% (CHF 3.375m), the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva and Jura 11% (CHF 435,000) and the Bosnian authorities 5% (CHF 205,000). The cantons are also providing the technical skills and strategic know-how required to implement the project.

The agreement was initialled by the Director-General of the SDC, Ambassador Martin Dahinden, and four members of the respective cantonal governments (State Councillors): Phillipe Perrenoud, Director of Public Health and Social Services of the canton of Bern; Anne-Claude Demierre, Director for Health and Social Affairs of the canton of Fribourg; Isabel Rochat, Director of the Department of Security, Police and Environment of the canton of Geneva; and Michel Probst, Minister in charge of the Department of the Economy and Cooperation of the canton of Jura.

Ambassador Dahinden welcomed the commitment of the cantons as “valuable support” for the Confederation’s development cooperation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He noted that thanks to this support it has been possible to establish a partnership at the institutional level with a country that is important to the Confederation, notably with regard to the Bosnian diaspora living in Switzerland. 

On the cantonal side, Mrs Demierre confirmed that this action by the four cantons has been closely coordinated with the Confederation’s policy on development cooperation as conducted by the SDC. The efforts of the cantons in the area of development cooperation can take various forms: financial support for the projects of others, the secondment of training experts, and programmes to increase awareness among the public. The Bosnia project has advantage of covering all three of these options. 

Mr Perrenoud noted that the experts mandated by the canton of Bern would be able to provide effective assistance and all parties concerned would benefit from the exchange of experiences made possible by this innovative project.  

For the canton of Geneva the project is of particular importance, as Mrs Rochat pointed out. Since 1997, the canton has been actively involved, through the University Hospitals of Geneva, in rebuilding the basic health system of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Finally Mr Probst welcomed the partnership between the SDC and the cantons which, he said, reflected the efforts made by the canton of Jura to gain recognition of the role of the cantons in implementing the Confederation’s policy on aid to development. The Jura authorities consider that the Swiss cantons are capable of serving as active partners in support of Swiss cooperation abroad. The Bosnian project is undoubtedly a case in point.   

For additional information:

Mrs Stephanie Guha
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) 
Western Balkans Section
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) 031 322 44 11 

Mrs Valérie Falbriard
Mission Officer / Coordinator for the cantons 032 420 59 65
Cooperation Service Republic and Canton of Jura

Further information:

SDC: Project overview

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs