19 February 2018

Zimbabwe: Zim's Prisons a Living Hell for Mental Patients

Photo: The Herald
Zimbabwean prisoners (file photo).

Zimbabwean Prisons still suffer from critical resource shortages and over crowding and these problems are acute for prisoners with mental illness, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Head of Mission Abi Kebra Belaye has said.

Addressing various stakeholders on the activities MSF has done in Zimbabwe from 2002 to 2017, Belaye said Zimbabwean Prisons lack basic resources for inmates and alternatives must be created to cater for patients with mental illness.

"Zimbabwean prisons lack basic resources for inmates, including food, water and clothing. They are also severely crowded which negatively affects inmate physical and mental health.

"One contributing factor to the congestion is the imprisonment of people with mental health illnesses due to an absence of adequate mental healthcare facilities.

"Putting people in prison because they have a mental health illness detracts from their treatment, alternatives must be created so that patients with mental illness receive the care and support they need." she said.

MSF has been working in prisons since 2012 in partnership with the Zimbabwean Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) to deliver mental health treatment and has witnessed a number of improvements.

As MSF handed over its prison psychiatry project to the Health Ministry Belaye added that it is critical to capitalize on the gains and continue addressing mental health in prisons.

"We call upon the Zimbabwean Government, donors, and other stakeholders to take two immediate actions thus appropriate use of existing legal mechanisms for the release of inmates with mental illnesses, shift the responsibility for inmate health health from the justice to health system and maintain mental health service delivery in Chikurubi." added Belaye.

At present, ZPCS cannot refuse to take inmates, even when they reach capacity, these problems are acute for prisoners with metal illnesses.

Only two Zimbabwean prisons have dedicated units for the care of inmates with mental illnesses, these units which receive all prisoners with metal health diagnoses or suspected diagnoses from each of Zimbabwe's provinces are woefully underfunded.

The entire prison system suffers from a food shortage and this also affects the psychiatric units where some patients require additional food to support the absorption of certain medications. Patients are not properly clothed because the system does not receive enough uniforms and blankets on time.

However, Ministry of Health and Child Care Deputy Director Mental Health Services, Dorcas Sithole appreciated and was grateful for the job MSF did with the prisons and other projects. She also emphasized that as a ministry they will continue with the work.

"Ministry of Health is going to do all it can to make sure that we support these projects so that they are viable, we will continue doing the work with the resources from government.

"MSF funded us with a lot of things including vehicles and government will have to continue with this initiative by fueling the vehicles and servicing them. We are very grateful for this and encourage MSF to continue with the good work." said Sithole.

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