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Uganda Launches DFID funded Mental Health Programme

Health experts have warned that Uganda risks suffering reduced economic growth unless the Government addresses the acute shortage of psychiatrics to handle the increasing number of mental cases in the country.

Statistics show that close to 20% (6.8 million) out of the 34 million people in Uganda have some degree of mental illness, ranging from anxiety and depression to severe madness.

Besides, there are 5% of Ugandan children suffering from epilepsy who also need the work of psychiatrics and psychiatric nurses.

However, according to Butabika mental hospital director Fred Kigozi, the country has only 32 psychiatrics yet the number of mental cases seems to be increasing due to alcohol and drug abuse.

As a result, it is estimated that over 65% of the mentally ill persons do not receive treatment.

“There is only one psychiatric for a million people. This is a very small number to treat the high mental cases we have and it poses a serious social and economic threat to the country,” said Kigzoi.

“Several mentally ill persons end up murdering people. Others, due to social stress, lock and burn their family members in houses. Yet, if provided with health care, these people can be treated and become productive.”

He was speaking at the launch of a ministry of health programme for improving mental health care (PRIME) at the Kampala Fairway hotel on Thursday.

Funded by the department for International Development (DFID) of the UK, the programme seeks to scale up treatment for mentally ill persons in selected countries in Asia and Africa.

Under the programme, the ministry is to put up a mental health institute in Kamuli district to equip general nurses with skills to care for the mentally ill persons. This is aimed at incorporating mental health care into the general public health system.

The launch was attended by mental health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva and host of universities including Makerere and King’s College London, UK.

Kigozi attributed the problem to the fact that services for promoting mental health and protecting the mentally ill are starved of resources.

“In Uganda the mental burden is high, but the Government with limited funding has not provided care to those who need it. We need to pull up our socks.”

Dr. Dan Chisholm from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO headquarters in Geneva, said mental illness cases affect a country’s labour output and consumption, thus reducing economic growth.

Explaining that about 10% of the total global disease burden is attributable to mental ill-health, Chisholm implored governments to train more psychiatrics and increase funding for mental health services.

“Access to health is a basic human right. Discrimination, neglect and abuse constitute violation of this right,” Chisholm said.

He also called for well-formulated and human rights oriented health policies and laws to prevent abuse and stigma against the mentally ill persons.

“There are some compelling health, social, economic and ethical reasons to invest in public mental health,” said the WHO official. “However, these arguments can be over-shadowed by negative socio-cultural attitudes to mental illness and a pre-occupation with economic growth rather than well-being.”

By Francis Kagolo
The New Vision Newspaper

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