#National News

Covid-19 heaps more misery onmentally challenged people

Sep 10, 2021, 12:46 PM | Article By: Fatou Dem

Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, support has been insufficient for mentally challenged people in The Gambia.

The only mental health facilityin the country was opened around the 1960s in Banjul. In 2009 the psychiatryhospital was moved to a new building where thousands of mentally challenged people are kept.

Recently, stakeholders called on government to consider building more psychiatric hospitals, especially across regions.

They urged government to make sure every community has at least one psychiatric in-service hospital to ease the burden of travelling long distances.

In their beckon, they urged the Ministry of Health to revisit the Lunatic Act as it needs amendments.

“The psychiatric hospital based in Salagi , West Coast Region is the only psychiatric in-service hospital in the country. Looking at the size of the country, people are coming from different party of the country to admit their patients. The distance is too far and we need the system to be decentralised for easy access,” said Foday Jawla, deputy program manager, Office of the Mental Health and Prevention of Substance Abuse.

Mr. Jawla whose office is overseeing the mental health activities of the country said they advocate for mentally-challenged people by mobilizing resources, linking them with philanthropists and also making sure their rights are not violated.

According to him, they see many mentally-challenged people around communities, even though the current Mental Health Act does not mandate them to go to the street and pick people.

“It is only the police, family members and/or relatives who are mandated to bring people to the treatment centre,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the mental health office together with partners drafted a Mental Health Bill for approval at the National Assembly but it is yet to be approved by lawmakers. The Act was last reviewed in 1964.

Mr Jawla further said that the pandemic interrupted their activities geared towards helping the mentally-challenged. This, he added has reduced the amount of supplies given to their patients.

“We need the support of philanthropists and Gambians who are willing to do something for people,” he went on.

He encouraged his fellow health workers in the sector to generate more interest in the area and help their brothers and sisters to ease the burden they face.

“Our support to mentally challenged persons is unique in various aspects,” he added, saying they provide day-to-day services by taking care of their hygiene, giving them medications, talking to them, and linking them to right services because they feel their care is a collaborative one.

Ousman Sillah, chairperson of the National Assembly Health Committeesaid government should consider building more psychiatric hospitals as well as provide more assistance to staff working at Tanka Tanka Psychiatric Hospital.

He recommended government to invest in the health care sector, motivate Tanka Tanka staff and allocate more fundsto them.

The Banjul North lawmaker also urged the Ministry of Health to revisit the Lunatic Act because the word ‘Lunatic’ as on the Lunatic Act is derogatory.

Momodou Gassama, Health Promotion Specialist atWorld Health Organisation said his office in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) trained health and non- health care workers in the delivery of basic psychological first aid during the covid-19 outbreak.

He said to promote the mental well-being of mentally-challenged people as well as to improve the work of the psychiatric hospital is not one-size-fits-all.  This, he said needs a holistic approach based on their existing circumstances, evidence and best practice.

“We need to ensure that the right policies and strategies are in place and are fully implemented,” he stated.

An opportunity to build back better

The scaling-up and reorganization of mental health services that are now needed on a global scale is an opportunity to build a mental health system that is fit for the future,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO.

“This means developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community.” 

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Mai-Media and The Point.