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08.10.2008 Health

Need to decentralise mental health services – Dr Osei


Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist at Accra Psychiatry Hospital has called on government to decentralise mental health services and integrate mental health in private health care.

He noted that six per cent of the country's health budget allocated to mental health was not sufficient.

Dr Osei made the call at the presentation of a report on Mental Health and Poverty Project in Accra on Wednesday.

The project was funded by the UK-based Department for International Development (DFID) to develop, implement and evaluate mental health policy in developing countries.

He said despite the financial constraint, there were difficulties in recruitment and retention of psychiatry staff, adding ”only six out of the 15 Psychiatrists available in the country are in active service while 115 Psychiatry nurses would retire in the next five years.”

Dr Osei stressed the need for an urgent comprehensive national plan to train more Psychiatry nurses.

He expressed concern about the perception that mental illness was madness and demon possessed and pointed out that any individual could suffer from depression or psychological problem at any time.

Dr Osei noted that lack of psychotic medicines, compelled psychiatrists to use traditional medicines that had negative side effects on patients and called for a comprehensive treatment package that would include rehabilitation for substance abuse patients.

Dr Angela Ofori-Atta, Senior Lecturer in Department of Psychiatry at UGMS and Co-Principal Investigator for the project, called for a review of Ghana's mental health care policy to save it from imminent collapse.

She said the draft Mental Policy should be implemented to promote mental health in the development agenda to address its linkage with poverty since deficiencies in the mental health legislation of 1972 was a major setback in mental health care.

Dr Ofori-Atta said the legislation also lacked adequate protection for the human rights of mental patients and did not acknowledge the role of faith and traditional healers.

She said available statistics since 2005 indicated that funding for mental health was woefully inadequate at Ankaful, Pantang and Accra Psychiatric hospitals.

Dr Ofori-Atta said the average cost of maintenance for daily dose of medication was 58 per cent lower than the minimum daily wage of GHC 2.25 whilst that for anti-depressant were 23 per cent lower than the minimum wage.

Major Courage Quashigah (Rtd), Minister for Health in an address read on his behalf, expressed concern about the limited number of psychologists in hospitals despite the many psychology graduates from the universities.

Dr Elias Sory, Director-General of Ghana Health Service (GHS) pointed out that a new policy was not enough to revamp mental health care, but the existing policy should be well implemented.

He said some provisions in the 1972 legislation had not been implemented and called for serious lobbying by stakeholders to implement them for effective and efficient mental health care delivery.

Dr Sory noted that GHS had considered the inadequate number of clinical psychologists and would be factored it into the 2009 budget to train more of them.

Mrs Frema Osei-Opare, Deputy Minister of Manpower, Youth and Employment said mental patients were not included in the Ministry's definition of vulnerable groups, except the physically challenged.

However, she said the Ministry could consider mental patients through the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) by providing grants to care takers of such patients who fall below the extreme poverty line to empower them to enhance their living standards.