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Northern Ghana has no Psychiatric Hospital

2011-09-14 20:29:32
This article has been read 923 times.

Northern Ghana, with over 60 percent of its population classified under the poorest and under-served in terms of mental health services, does not have a single psychiatric clinic or hospital, although it has a large number of mental patients.

Not only that, there is only one psychiatrist stationed at the Tamale Teaching Hospital in the Northern Regional capital taking care of patients scattered all over Northern Ghana, which comprises of the Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions.

Thirty-four, out of the 600 psychiatric nurses countrywide, serve the population, estimated at 4,177,798 (2010 PHC provisional results), says BasicNeeds-Ghana, a non-governmental organisation providing support to mentally-sick and epileptic patients.

The Accra Psychiatric Hospital, for instance, was built in 1906. It has capacity for 800 patients, but currently houses an estimated 1,000 inmates.

The Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital, also built in 1965, in the Central Region of Ghana, has a capacity for 500 beds, but currently has 150 in-patients. The reduction in the number of in-patients is due to the dwindling number of nurses and doctors there.

The Pantang Hospital, on the other hand, was commissioned in1975 to decongest the Accra Psychiatric Hospital. The original intention of the then Head of State, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, according to the report, who initiated the building of the Ankaful and Pantang hospitals, was to provide a Pan-African Mental Health Village for Research.

As the report put it: “It was a grandiose project that would have recruited experts from Africa,” and went further, stating that currently, the hospital has a capacity for 500 beds, but accommodates 450 patients.

It has vast land with a number of uncompleted wards, bungalows and junior staff accommodation left in the bush. Both Ankaful and Pantang have nursing training schools attached, producing Registered Psychiatric Nurses.

The report added that there are two private hospitals in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region – Pankrono Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital and Adom Clinic at Santase.

In the nation’s capital Accra, there is one private hospital –Valley View Clinic – and in the Port city of Tema, the Alberto Cinic.

However, BasicNeeds-Ghana, observes that inadequate funding constrains the ability of these institutions to maintain and upgrade their facilities.

The congested Records Department of the Pantang Hospital, according to the organisation, has apparently not been refurbished since it was constructed in 1975. All of the records of the 43,170 patients treated to date are maintained here, in paper form, it added.

At another institution, the organisation revealed that the Carpentry Department in the Occupational Therapy Unit has virtually no functioning tools, and lacks sufficient wood for patients to work with.

Challenges of Mental Health

Despite the gravity of these statistics, mental health continues to suffer neglect, in terms of practical and sustainable actions that could benefit poor, marginalised people with mental illness.

These days, mental health treatment is viewed as a right, but many people still consider the treatment of mental conditions a privilege.

Due to these changes, Ghana is revising its mental health law. The new mental health bill drafted in 2004 and completed in 2006 though has delayed for many years, seeks, when finally passed into law, to improve the care of poor, vulnerable people with mental illness or epilepsy, safeguard their human rights, and promote their participation in restoration and recovery.

The pending bill, which has been hailed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the best legislations worldwide, also seeks to ensure that adequate provision of resources, and has nine parts consisting of a Mental Health Board, a Service, a Review Tribunal (to review mental cases), Visiting Committee, Voluntary Treatment and Involuntary Treatment.

The other parts of the bill are the Rights of a Person (to take a look at human right abuses and discrimination associated with mental health), Protection of the Vulnerable Group and Miscellaneous provisions.

The Bill would further de-emphasise institutional care and help place mental care on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

WHO requires that mental healthcare should start from self-care, through informal community care, primary healthcare, community health service, regional, and finally, to long stay facilities. But, sadly, the opposite is what prevails in Ghana.

Launching a photo-book in Tamale, the Northern Regional capital on the horrific state of the mental health situation in Ghana, particularly Northern Ghana, Yaro Peter, stressed the need to highlight the living conditions of persons with mental health problems, saying “these are human rights issues to such lives that cannot be ignored.”

He indicated that a significant number of Ghana’s population experience one form of mental illness or epilepsy, disclosing that Ghana has 2.4 million people who experience one form of mental illness, with only 2 percent having access to care, hence the need to advocate the concerns of people with mental problems.

According to Yaro Peter, people with mental health problems contribute to a large proportion of persons with disability, globally estimated to be 650 million people.

The 3-page photo-book, highlighting the lives of most people with mental illness or epilepsy and their care-givers, including some of the people that work in the sector, was produced from a project called “Ghana – A picture of Mental Health”, which was funded under the Mwananchi Grant Scheme, managed by participatory Development Associates of Ghana.

The photo-book depicts horrific situations, whereby mentally challenged persons have been chained, legs pinned through tree trunks, confined or kept in partially-enclosed porches or rooms, and shackled among others. Those in confined rooms eat, sleep, and answer nature’s call there.

The collection of photos does not just portray the disgusting treatment and living conditions under which persons with mental disorders or epilepsy have to undergo, but also shows the humanness and hidden potential that people who are currently ill, or have stabilised, as well as their primary care-givers, have to contribute to their own wellbeing and those of their families.

Most of these people in the photo-book were once teachers, traders, hardworking wives or husbands, and lovely children of parents and families.

Social Stigma

Unfortunately, the social stigma so often associated with mental illness or epilepsy, poverty and inadequate healthcare facilities have conspired to rob these people of the care and support they deserve.

The photo documentary clearly revealed that there is much to be done to improve the situation of people suffering from mental illness and epilepsy in Northern Ghana. As Yaro Peter reflects, “Mental health in Ghana is in an orphaned state.”

All the same, he is happy that all is not lost, as increasing attention is being given to mental health issues and the welfare of people with mental disorders.

He told this journalist: “I hope Parliament would pass the mental health bill before Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections next year, which is 2012. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Health has been touring some countries, including the United Kingdom and South Africa, to understudy how mental health services were being implemented there.”

In Ghana, the top ten mental problems often found with patients on admission at psychiatric hospitals, according to the 2003 government report, include schizophrenia, substance abuse, depression, hypomania, acute organic brain syndrome, manic depressive psychosis, schizo-affective psychosis, alcohol dependency syndrome, epilepsy and dementia.

According to psychiatry experts, cannabis admissions are higher each year, and there are more men using drugs than women. This is cultural, as Ghanaians frown on female drug users. The multiple drugs used involved cannabis, cocaine, heroin and alcohol.

BasicNeeds Ghana, since its establishment in 2002, has reached 18,838 people with mental illness or epilepsy from over 18,700 families, together with 18,335 care-givers in Northern Ghana and some parts of Accra.

Currently, the organisation is working actively with 17,603 people with mental illness or epilepsy, all of whom are receiving regular treatment, while 4,681 of them have stabilised, and have been trained or being trained in vocational skills.

2,014 people are operating small businesses; 1,032 are engaged in horticultural activities, and 8,476 of them involved in several different income generating activities to cater for themselves.

The organisation is a pioneer development agency in mental health in the country. The Mental Health and Development model uses a holistic and multi-faceted approach, facilitating treatment and stability for poor people with mental illness and epilepsy, and working towards reducing poverty through sustainable livelihoods, and promoting human rights.

Meanwhile, mental health practitioners and organisations working in the field, as well as observers, are hopeful that it will not be long before Ghana and its citizens enjoy quality mental healthcare, and people with mental illness or epilepsy and their care-givers and families actively participate in development processes and benefit from them.


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