6 December 2012

Liberia: Mental Illness Increases in Liberia

Mental illness have reportedly increased in the country with Phebe Medical Hospital in Bong County recording at least 171 mentally ill patients since January 2012, but a psychiatrist at the hospital blamed the increase of the illness on lack of political interest.

Dr. Joshua Tugumisirize disclosed that the increase in mental illness is simply due to lack of political will by the government to address the disease.

He attributed mental illness to poverty, conflict within the family, stigmatization, environmental factors and abuse of alcohol.

Dr. Tugumisirize said the youngest patient with mental illness who has so far visited the Phebe Hospital is said to be at the age of nine month

He observed that the baby might have suffered a brain damage due to prolonged labor or infection at birth.

The Psychiatrist also identified the oldest patient to be at the age of 80 years. According to him, Phebe Hospital is receiving only out-patients.

Dr. Tugumisirize further stressed the need for a clinic, which he added, should specifically cater for mental illness. Presently, the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center is the only facility intended to cater to mentally ill people.

However, this facility is inadequate for the prevailing situation of mental ill people. The Center lacks trained mental health practitioners and specialized programs as well as school for mental health.

Dr. Tugumisirize stated that the condition of persons with mental illness is being compounded by severe challenges of stigmatization and lack of commitment from family to cater to them, among others.

Emphasizing the need for the government to do more about mental illness in the country, Dr. Tugumisirize pointed out that other countries have taken giant steps to address the issue of mental illness. He named Malawi as one of those nations that sponsored people to study mental health in Zambia and Uganda.

A former Chief Medical Officer of Phebe Hospital, Dr. Gaffe Williams attributed the worsening situation of mental illness to anxiety and depression, adding, "They need chronic care from all".

He said getting timely and proper treatment will help those who have mental challenge to recover and have a chance of becoming productive.

Making reference to an earlier comment by Dr. Tugumisirize that policy makers most times argue that resources should be geared towards saving lives, Dr. Williams said, policy makers are contending that the mentally ill are not dying; therefore, their family should take care of them.

The two doctors contended that issue of mental illness is a social issue that should not be treated as though those who are ill are responsible for it.

The Phebe Hospital in Bong County was the only medical center in Liberia that addresses mental illness prior to opening of the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center, a private clinic that also treats mental illness in the country.

Article 12.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by Liberia on September 22, 2004 states "that state parties to the present covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. It furthers in point (d) the creation of conditions which would assure all to medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness."

Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states "that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Additionally, Article 11(c) of the Constitution of Liberia states "that all persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to equal protection of the law."

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