Chief Psychiatrist and CEO of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei has condemned the practice of chaining mental health patients in traditional and faith-based camps for treatment.
This is a very common practice in Ghana where inhuman treatments are meted out to patients with mental and substance abuse disorders.
He was in a conversation with the Head of Psychiatry at the University of Ghana Medical School, Dr Sammy Ohene and hosted by Professor J.B Asare, a former Chief psychiatrist of the Ghana Health Service and current chairman of the Mental Health Authority.
Dr Osei added that a more gradual rather than radical approach is needed to address the problem. “We need a gradual approach at registering and training, not for spiritual diagnosis but rather on the provisions of the law and what mental illness is all about,” he said.
Psychiatric nurses, he further mentioned, will be placed in prayer camps to give medication to patients while they still continue with prayers. This, he explained, has actually started on pilot basis in some areas.
When aggressive patients are brought to these camps, the nurses on duty will give sedation to calm them down. The option to continue staying in the camp ideally should be at the discretion of the patient, depending on their beliefs. He kicked against starving inmates at these camps in the name of fasting.
In his submission, Dr Ohene said the Accra Psychiatric Hospital should be modernised into a first class psychiatric hospital in the center of town with the right facilities which can give prompt attention to mental and substance abuse cases and facilities for rehabilitation.
He suggested that parts of the hospital lands should be sold and the money used to build this facility.
The current mental health act puts emphasis on human rights and community care, as compared to the old law which focuses on institutional care. The act, when passed into law, would bring on board traditional and faith-based healers to make Ghanaian culture very relevant to mental healthcare and also ensure there is a funding mechanism within it.
This, he says, is in line with modern trends and will hopefully help to demystify the myth surrounding mental ailments and the current abuse and maltreatment that mental patients are subjected to.
Dr Osei agreed and explained that the Accra Psychiatric hospital has been downsized from One Thousand Two Hundred to Four Hundred and Fifty to possibly even further. “We are thinking of two possibilities, one is to completely demolish the structures and build a much smaller but state of the art facility.
"If we realise that the mental health fund is enough, then that will be the choice of funding, if this is not enough, then we will think of trading of part of the lands”.
Professor Asare cited a World Health Organisation (WHO) report which revealed that over Three Million Ghanaians suffer from mental and neurological disorders and over Six Hundred Thousand have very severe mental health conditions worth treating. The current treatment gap is about ninety eight percent. This means that only 2% of the Ghanaian population receive treatment.
He mentioned that the enactment of the Mental Health Act 846 and the inauguration of the Mental Health Authority have been regarded by many Ghanaians as well as international bodies as a good direction to salvage the image of Ghana and mental health delivery.
On March 10, 2014, Human Rights Watch, an International Organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland after its sensational and negative reports on mental health practice in Ghana wrote: The government of Ghana should ensure that the newly formed health authority closely monitors all mental health facilities to end the widespread mistreatment of people with mental disorders, overcrowding and insanitary conditions. Indeed some have said that suffering from a mental illness in Ghana is like a death sentence.