Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mental Health Ignored in Africa

Across Africa, researchers say, the mentally ill are getting poor or no care, and often are treated with the kind of stigma usually reserved for prisoners. The attitude toward mental illness is sometimes reinforced by ignorance about what causes it and how it should be treated, they say. Patients can be called "mad" by nurses, and some are dismissed as the unlucky victims of witchcraft. And those fortunate to get admitted to a hospital are not likely to get the attention they need, often because there are too few doctors and nurses.

Uganda, a country of 33 million people where an entire region was devastated by decades of a rebel insurgency at the hands of the cruel Lord's Resistance Army, has only 33 qualified psychiatrists. That's one psychiatrist for a million people.  "Access (to treatment) is limited to very few," said Seggane Musisi, a professor of psychiatry at Uganda's Makerere University "And there is limited ethical understanding and commitment among caregivers."

In neighboring Kenya, a nation of about 40 million people, there are only 83 qualified psychiatrists. According to the Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped there are 3.6 million Kenyans with intellectual disabilities "who are rejected by parents, families and abandoned to live in inhumane and abusive environments. According to Prof. David M. Ndetei of Kenya's University of Nairobi. Ndetei, director of the Nairobi-based Africa Mental Health Foundation, only 4 percent of those with mental illness are able to access treatment in Kenya.
 He said, caregivers had resorted to drugging patients in order to do less work, an unethical practice that he suggested was understandable in a country where health workers frequently complain of poor pay and too much work. "We tend to control (patients) by giving them medication rather than talking to them."  In May 40 male patients fled the country's only psychiatric hospital in the capital, Nairobi, allegedly because they were being abused by caregivers there.

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