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General News | Jun 14, 2004

Mental Law to be reviewed

GNA

Accra, June 14, GNA - The Mental Health Law protecting mental patients is to be reviewed after 32 years.

The Mental Health Law NRCD 30 of 1972, which is hoped to go to parliament before the end of the year covers mainly the institutional care, leaving out issues like community care.

Dr Joseph Asare, Chief Psychiatrist of the Ghana Health Service, who said this at the opening of a four-day workshop on Monday in Accra, said the first Mental Health Law on the Lunatic Asylum Ordinance Cap 79 was enacted in 1888 by Sir Griffith Edwards in the Gold Coast.

The workshop, which is reviewing Human Rights and Mental Law of the country, is being attended by stakeholders in mental health with resource persons and materials from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Participants are discussing the strengths and weakness of the law, identify issues that need to be considered and incorporated and map out strategy for the formulation and implementation of the new law.

It is estimated that 25 per cent of countries worldwide have no legislation on mental health and countries that have the laws were formulated 40 years ago therefore, had become outdated.

In Africa, where 70 per cent of the countries have current mental laws, it seems to condone and perpetrate human rights violations. Dr Asare said though there had not been any review since 1972, many socio-political changes have occurred in the mental health care delivery such as the traditional and spiritual healers which have not been covered.

"This has led to many human rights abuses to psychiatric patients by both orthodox and other practitioners including physical and sexual assaults with some healers even marrying or taking over the properties of their patients".

Dr Asare said the review will cover issues like improving community care, establishment of rehabilitation centres for mentally retarded patients, and the involvement of traditional and religious healers so as monitor their activities and improve the quality of service to mental patients.

In a speech read for him, the Minister of Health, Dr Kweku Afriyie, said mental health had suffered from exclusion for far too long and there was the need to increase awareness that will increase access to mental care and for the mentally ill to also enjoy a meaningful life. He regretted the lack of attraction to the profession and attributed it to lack of logistics and the necessary structures to make it more attractive.

Dr Afriyie urged the Mental Unit to increase awareness of community development programme so as to receive the needed support.

"In the same way, mental health personnel should be made aware of the new roles that they would be prepared to fulfil in the near future and be conversant with law", he added.

He urged participants to also consider some of the cultural influences and beliefs in the system and come with measures that will improve the practices of mental health care.

Dr Michelle Funk, Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development Team, WHO, Geneva Office, said the key issues to be discussed, will include protecting and promoting the human rights of people with mental disorders with emphasis on their rights to treatment and care, voluntary and involuntary admission as well as confidentiality.

Dr Theresa Agossou, Regional Advisor for Mental Health and Substance Abuse of WHO, Brazzaville, pledged WHO's support in ensuring that Ghana comes out with a new mental law which addresses all the issues of human rights of people with mental disorders.

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