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03.05.2006 Business & Finance

Over 9,000 votes go waste in northern Ghana


…Due to mental illnesses, says NGO

The Programme Manager of Basic Needs, a British non-governmental development organization, Mr. Peter Yaro Badimak, has urged politicians in the country to join hands with other stakeholders and do their utmost best to redeem the large number of votes that go waste, due to mental illnesses.
“Our politicians must know that the over 9000 people who are suffering from mental illness in the three northern regions can make a change in their chances of winning elections; there is therefore the need for our politicians to support other stakeholders in ensuring that these people are brought to normalcy,” he said.

He consequently called for national mental health policy that adequately responds to the many mental health issues confronting the nation and more particularly, northern Ghana.

Speaking at the launch of regional 'Alliance for Mental Health and Development', Upper East Chapter, initiated by Basic Needs, Mr. Badimak disclosed that 90% of the over 9,500 mentally-challenged persons his organization was working with in the three northern regions, were receiving regular treatment from the psychiatric units.

He added that a significant number of those receiving treatment had had their conditions stabilized and were doing something for themselves and “even if for no financial gain at all, they are stable enough to maintain some personal hygiene and get about their daily livelihoods and survival activities with less worry than before.”

Explaining the concept of the project, the programme manager said his organization sought to facilitate the building of alliances closest to the grassroots, which would mobilize and include mentally-challenged persons and garner support for their needs and interests.

He said the alliance would, among other things, work to create awareness, sensitize the public about the social stigma associated with mental illness, followed by education on the civil, economic, socio-cultural and political rights, needs and privileges of people suffering from mental illness as human beings equally covered by the universal fundamental human rights, and who need protection from physical abuse or harm, and ensuring their personal safety and security.

The National Chief Psychiatric, Dr. Akwasi Osei, bemoaned the country's unpreparedness to meet the challenges facing the deteriorating mental health situation in the country.

Dr Osei observed, “As the problem of mental illness rises, our preparedness diminishes and that calls for other partners and collaborators to assist us.”

He disclosed that the country needed at least two thousand psychiatric nurses, but it could only boast of five hundred with only one hundred and forty being community psychiatric nurses at present, of which over 80% would be retired in the next ten years.

He intimated that the country's three psychiatric hospitals last year recorded ninety thousand cases of mental illnesses, anticipating that as the society became more complex, there was the likelihood that the incidence of mental illness would rise, as factors leading to stress and other illnesses of a developing society, such as drug abuse, increased.

He noted that there were many NGOs in areas such as HIV/AIDS, but only a few in mental health, and commended Basic Needs for championing the cause of the mentally-challenged in the last five years of its existence in Ghana.

The Chief Psychiatric announced that one significant achievement realized out of Basic Needs' partnership with Ghana Health Service (GHS) was the fact that the Mental Unit of GHS noted a drop in hospital attendance last year, which he attributed to the outreach clinics facilitated by Basic Needs consultant psychiatrics moved to the patients in their respective communities.

He recommended that HIV/AIDS services should be integrated with drug abuse services, thus drug abuse counseling centers might also serve as HIV/AIDS centers, and urged other NGOs to join the Alliance for Mental Health and Development.

On his part, The Upper East Regional Minister, Boniface Gambilla, advised the people, particularly the youth, to refrain from the use of hard drugs, which has become one major factor that contributes to mental illness.

He assured the people that the government would leave no stone unturned in its efforts at improving the health status of Ghanaians.