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Health News of Monday, 12 October 2015

Source: GNA

Cruelly treated mental health inmates deserve dignity - Activists

Pressure is piling on government to act swiftly to protect the dignity and rights of mental health inmates living in poor conditions in psychiatric facilities and prayer camps where they have become subjects of ‘mockery’.

The Mental Health Society of Ghana (MEHSOG) has therefore called on civil society groups, religious bodies and individuals to collectively raise their voices against such inhumane treatment to restore their dignity.

The MEHSOG Executive Director, Mr Humphrey Matey Kofie said in statement copied to the Ghana News Agency on Saturday to mark the World Mental Health Day that government needed to act quickly to bring back the dignity and rights of the inmates.

“Mental disability is not an extra-ordinary health condition but a normal health condition that requires a dignified approach to care and treatment,” he said.

The World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year and offers governments around the globe the opportunity to reflect on the extent of contributions and commitment made to promote mental health.

The 2015 Day is celebrated on the theme: “dignity in mental health.”

“People with mental disabilities in institutions like the traditional healing centers and Christian prayer camps continue to face different forms of ill-treatment, even in the public psychiatric hospitals, we cannot say there is dignity in mental health,” Mr Kofie said.

He said it was not enough for mental health interest groups to strongly advocate a dignified life for people with mental disabilities towards eradicating torture and abuse in treatment centers.

He noted that despite the recognition given to mental health in Ghana’s constitution, society’s approach to psychiatric issues as compared to other health conditions, did not reflect the constitutional backing and understanding of the condition.

“We have shown commitment as a country despite the several years of advocacy by enacting a mental health law. The law has fine provisions to change the way we approach mental health,” he noted.

Unfortunately, Mr Kofie said, “there is too much delay in implementing some of the provisions in the mental health law,” adding that “these delays make mockery of the sacrosanct nature of human dignity as far as mental health is concerned.”

The 2012 Ghana’s Mental Health Law provides for the setting up of visiting committees with adequate resources to monitor activities of institutions and individuals providing care to victims of mental disability.

The monitoring committees are expected to ensure that maximum care is given in accordance with best practice so that the dignity of people with mental disability could sufficiently be guaranteed.

“Sadly, these committees have not been constituted,” Mr Kofie said.

The Universal Declaration of Human Right states that: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” while Article 15 (1) of the 1992 Constitution places emphasis on “dignity of all persons” as inviolable.

“The emphasis on dignity as fundamental human right points to the obvious: that irrespective of our status in society, we are all entitled to a dignified life,” Mr Kofie argued.

MEHSOG call comes days after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez urged government to do more to protect the rights of persons with mental illness and provide sufficient funds among other things to improve their living conditions.

The Rapporteur visited Ghana to assess critical issues in the criminal justice system, including conditions of detention, as well as mental healthcare practices, focusing on treatment and living conditions of persons held in psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps.

He said despite some level of progress being made by government in the areas of passage of the mental health act and the establishment of the Mental Health Board, a lot more needed to be done to improve health conditions of patients.

He urged the government to follow-up on the establishment of visiting committees in the 10 regions, pass legislative instrument, allocate sufficient funds to programmes, and improve treatment and living conditions of mentally-ill patients.

Private institutions handling mental patients such as prayer camps, Mr Mendez said ought to also be regulated and monitored.

“I saw patients chained onto walls and forced to fast in a prayer camp,” the right expert said.

“These practices are frankly unacceptable and constitute torture, and the state of Ghana can no longer close its eyes to these practices,” he added.

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