Irregular supply of medications coupled with inadequate deployment of community psychiatric nurses continue to be a major challenge to mental health in the Northern Region despite the passage of a new mental health law two years ago intended to address the challenge.
The situation, according to health authorities, is much more serious in the Northern Region as well as the Upper West and Upper East Regions in particular –which are Ghana’s most economically disadvantaged.
Northern Ghana does not have a single psychiatric hospital, thus most patients in the area have to travel to any of the three state psychiatric hospitals – Accra, Pantang and Ankaful, located in the country’s extreme South for comprehensive treatment.
Under the new mental health law, there will be an improvement towards the care of poor, vulnerable people with mental illness or epilepsy, protection of their human rights and promotion of their participation in restoration and recovery.
The law in the next 5 to 10 years will ensure integrated services in general hospitals across the country, all district hospitals to have 2 to 5 beds in general wards, all regional hospitals to have psychiatric wards with 10 to 20 beds and community volunteers in mental health to be a common place.
A 40 to 50 bed psychiatric hospital will also be built in each region, 4 drug rehab centres established nation-wide and the current 3 psychiatric hospitals in the country downsized and refurbished to state-of-the-art facilities.
The law further emphasises a vigorous pursuance of training and recruitment of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other staff to render services across the country, provision of hot-line services, crisis intervention and mobile teams, getting rid of mentally ill persons in the streets and provide services without human rights abuse.
There are currently about 700 psychiatric nurses and 210 community psychiatric nurses in the country when in actual fact Ghana needs 5000 and 3000 personnel respectively for each of the two categories of health professionals. Additionally, Ghana currently has only 14 psychiatrists instead of 150.
Addressing a forum of the Northern Regional Alliance for Mental Health Development organised by Gub-Katimali Society in Tamale, Regional Coordinator, Psychiatric Nursing, John Ibrahim Abdulai, said although a lot of people with epilepsy and other forms of mental illness have been treated, the situation still requires desperate attention because there are more people who need treatment.
For instance, at the end of 2013, about 4,641 mentally ill and epileptic cases were recorded as against 4, 082 cases recorded in 2012. The figures though reducing at a minimal rate constitutes about 60 percent of people with epilepsy according to John.
He said medications are supposed to be supplied by the Ministry of Health four times in a year to the Northern Region. But the region in the whole of 2013, he noted, received only one out of the four consignments promised which obviously was inadequate for over twenty district health hospitals.
The forum, according to the Executive Director Gub-Katimali Society Sheik Yakubu Abdul-Kareem, was organized as part of the implementation of a 3-year project dubbed ““Promoting an Inclusive and Empowered Civil Society to advance Socio-Economic and Political Development in Ghana.”
Members of the Alliance; the National Commission for Civic Education, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Department of Gender, Mental Health Society of Ghana, Federation of International Women of Lawyers and Assembly officials, were brought together to give account of what they have done so far to help address the challenges of mental health, the reason for which the group was formed.
Sheik Yakubu explained that, the project, sponsored by the European Union and implemented by BasicNeeds-Ghana in collaboration with the Gub-Katimali Society, is being rolled out in Central Gonja, East Mamprusi, Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo, Nanumba South and Tamale Metropolis to advance socio-economic and political development by holding District Assemblies accountable.
The project intends to contribute to ensuring people-centered development that meets the needs and aspirations of the majority of the population, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. The poorest and vulnerable in this case refers to men and women with mental illness or epilepsy and their caregivers, women groups, the youth as well as peasant farmers who are mostly excluded in decision making or development processes at the local level.