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14.10.2003 Health

Mental health needs attention

By GNA
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Accra, Oct. 14, GNA- Dr Joseph Asare, Chief Psychiatrist of the Ministry of Health, on Tuesday called for priority attention in mental health delivery, saying the service was in crisis with about 70 per cent of professionals working on contract.

"How can the Accra Psychiatric Hospital with a patient population of over one thousand in 23 wards be managed by a little over 100 professional nurses and very few psychiatrists with about 70 per cent of them on contract appointment" he said.

Speaking at this year's World Mental Health Day in Accra, Dr Asare said, "if we do not declare mental health a hazardous and priority area and adhere to the advice being provided, then at some point Ghana would have to import specialists and nurses at a high cost", he said. "Ghana cannot continue with this type of mental health delivery inherited almost hundred years ago. In 2006, if we are alive, we shall observe the centenary of the existence of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, "Dr. Asare added.

He said the stigma attached to mental illness and the psychiatric practice has affected recruitment to the point that "we are having problems getting doctors to the field even to be trained." He called for urgent re-training of staff at the hospital in counselling, community psychiatric work, outpatients' care and domiciliary care.

"We shall move into the community cautiously while maintaining Pantang and Ankaful Psychiatric hospitals."

He said in November the Northern Region would have a social centre for the mentally ill through the joint efforts of the Ghana Health Service and Basic Needs, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). The theme for this year's celebration is "emotional and behavioural disorders of children and adolescents."

Dr Kwaku Afriyie, the Minister of Health, in a speech read for him, said 20 per cent of children and adolescents suffer from disabling mental illness, worldwide, with three to four per cent of the figure requiring treatment.

"Our statistics in Ghana show that cases of mental disorders reported in our hospitals and clinics are on the increase. In 2001, over 26,000 cases were reported, making it the 18th most important cause of out-patients' attendance."

He said out of the 26,000 cases about 15 per cent were children below the age of 15.

The Health Minister explained that many of the children developed mental problems simply out of accidents, abuse and sometimes through the carelessness of parents.

He said the Ministry would continue to support the establishment of regional and district mental health units and strengthen community mental health programmes.

Dr Melville George, the World Health Organisation's Representative in Ghana, in a speech read for him, said suicide, related to emotional and mental disorders, was the third leading cause of death among adolescents.

He said substance abuse was also common among children and adolescents.

Dr George said little resources and attention was, however, given to mental health care.

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