It is true that psychiatry is as old as Adam. It has gone through several revolutions and it appears that in this 21st century we have gone pass the days of the dark ages where psychiatric clients were held in shackles, dungeons, amiss cruel, inhumane and undignified treatment. But can this be said of mental health care in Ghana. In my opinion the answer is obvious no mental health in Ghana is in shambles and the system need total overhauling.
Admittedly, both passed and successive governments have done something little to support mental health care. Many thanks to the late professor Mills of blessed memory who took such a giant step to give legal recognition to mental health care in Ghana by signing the Mental Health Act (Act 846, 2012). The Mental Health Act seeks to among other things, protect and promote the rights of people with mental disorders and also ensure that people with mental disorders receive humane and dignified health care.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Mental Health Law is either in coma or dead. It is only on paper and practically nothing is happening. It has been a decade long since the passage of the Mental Health Law, but the horror today is unimaginable. Just recently, I sent my sister to Pantang Psychiatric Hospital and the cost of treatment will make you sick. Do you know that as at January this year, admission of a patient or a psychiatric client into the ordinary ward of this particular hospital now cost as high as one hundred (100) Ghana cedis per night.
Yes, I mean on the ordinary ward and not in a hotel. Perhaps, you have not yet appreciated the magnitude of the problem at hand. As per the protocol in this facility a client on admission is force to pay GHS 1,800 for just two weeks and in a single month he/she is paying close to GHS 4,000 excluding medications and laboratory investigations. Paying GHS 1,800 for two weeks admission on the ordinary ward amiss poor living conditions is regrettable.
For heaven sake how many Ghanaians can afford this? This notwithstanding is an affront to the Mental Health Law, and it does not only constitute gross violation of the rights of people with mental and psychological disorders but a complete denial of health care to this segment of people. This sheer wickedness is completely unacceptable and must not be allowed to continue.
Ironically, while this is happening in Pantang Psychiatric Hospital other sources indicate that same service is being rendered in Accra Psychiatric Hospital and Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital for five (500) and one thousand six hundred and fifty (1,650) Ghana cedis respectively per month. Why this dramatic change, and why should clients be treated with such disdain. Are we now in a banana republic where mental health care is being sold like tomatoes in the market?
I mean this kind of normlessness, excesses, human right violations and abuses must stop. I don’t want to believe that the Minister of Health and the Ghana Mental Health Authority are aware of this unhealthy development in the mental health fraternity. Perhaps, it is happening on their blind side and I want to use this write up to draw their attention and further wish to appeal to them to live up to their mandate.
Besides, let me take the opportunity to educate those of you who may not have the minutiae of what the treatment entails. The treatment is such that when a person develops mental illness he/she would be on treatment for life and when such a fellow is sent for admission for the first time, he/she can stay up to at least two months or more to gain full remission, so you can now assume how much the cost would be.
Similarly, the treatment demands that they eat healthy and well balanced diet but surprisingly what they eat on the ward is nothing to write home about. I remember a scenario on one of the ordinary ward where a client who refused to eat his food told me in the face bluntly “I am not going to eat that food, even my dog will not eat that food’’. As for their wash rooms the least said about it the better.
Furthermore, we must get serious as a nation. It is crucial that something urgently need to be done to reverse the decomposing mental health care in the country. There is too much politics and lips service around some of these things. If I may ask, where are the new psychiatric hospitals promised by His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwah Akufour Addo and his government when they took the gargantuan loan from China.
I am just curious and want to know. Probably, they are in the pipeline, the usual political talk. But the multi-million dollar question that begs for an answer is ‘why do we build more psychiatric hospitals when we don’t even have fund to run and maintain the few existing ones’?. Your guess is as good as mine.
Before I conclude, I want to challenge His Excellency and his team to take pragmatic steps towards the implementation of the Mental Health Law. It is long overdue and we must act quickly. Do you know as I speak now even though the Mental Health Law clearly states that treatment should be free for people with mental and psychological disorders, yet every month clients would have to spend a minimum of GHS 50 to buy medication?.
That is how rotten the situation is and how insensitive we have become as a nation. Since 2012, the free government psychotropic drugs have become very erratic if not stopped and everyone including the media has gone quiet. Why? It is a shame. The situation has become a fertile ground for some disgruntle and unscrupulous professional elements to amass wealth at the expense of the poor. I cannot fathom why people with mental illness who are more or less object of pity be forced to pay for their treatment while the so called normal people with all the strength and wealth be made to benefit from free health care.
This is complete injustice and I propose that the most controversial E-Levy should be channeled towards the development of mental health care. Don’t be dismay at this point. The fundamental problem with the implementation of the Mental Health Law is lack of sustainable funding, so a levy of this kind will be a viable substitute.
In conclusion, I want to appeal to WHO Mental Health Focal Person in Ghana, the President of the Republic, the Minister of Health, Human Right Organizations, Social welfare, Parliamentary Select Committee on Health, Media Organizations, Mental Health Authority, Corporate Organizations, local and international NGOs, Chiefs and all well-meaning Ghanaians to come to the aid of these poor clients. Let’s end the injustice. Long live Ghana, long live mental health.
Written by: Atakli Alex | Public Health Specialist
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