Mental hospitals in Ghana are so cash-starved that they have been forced to stop admitting patients. Rights activists say the mentally disabled are being abused.
The Accra Psychiatric Hospital is quieter than most other hospitals in Ghana. In-patients queue up to see the doctor. Nana Odoom* is one of those waiting to see the chief psychiatrist.
This is his first time and he is under police escort. His father Patrick Odoom* said he got into trouble with the police and ended up in court. The court decided that he should be brought to the hospital.
Odoom senior is hopeful his son will receive the treatment he needs. "Here is the best place, he will be healed," he said.
Such hopes may well be misplaced. Dr Akwasi Osei, chief psychiatrist at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, told DW he has fewer than a dozen members of staff to care for over a thousand patients.
Mental Health Act
Osei explained that there are three psychiatric hospitals in Ghana of which two have stopped admitting patients because of a shortage of funds. His hospital is only accepting emergencies. "We hope the situation will improve. We have been in touch with the ministry and have been given promises that money will be released very soon," the chief psychiatrist said.
In 2012 Ghana's lawmakers passed the Mental Health Act ordering the restructuring of mental health care in the country, but the bill has yet to be fully implemented. The law will establish a mental health board overseeing all mental health issues. Osei said he believes it "will go a long way to ensuring that the needs of mental health care are taken care of."
The mentally ill in Ghana do not only suffer from the absence of medical expertise. They are also put at risk by others seeking alternative treatment on their behalf. Some families have sent sick relatives to prayer camps or other facilities, where they have been exposed to abuse.
In October 2012, the rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Ghanaian government to take immediate steps to end such treatment of people with mental disabilities.
HRW reported that the patients in the country's three psychiatric hospitals and eight prayer camps were being denied food and subject to physical and verbal abuse. Senior HRW researcher, Medi Ssengooba, said the government must create community-based support services that would enable people with mental disabilities to be integrated into the community.
Prayer camps should meet specific standards
Ssengooba also said the government should set specific standards of care. Prayer camps that do not meet those standards should not be permitted to admit people with mental disabilities. The camps should not be closed down, but "monitored periodically," Ssengooba said.
Asked about the poor standard of mental health care in Ghana, Tony Goodman, director of communications at the health ministry, said things will get better. "Immediately we receive our budget, we will send a portion of our budget to them for them to address some of the challenges," he told DW.
Human rights groups and advocates for the mentally disabled will be watching carefully.
*names changed to protect privacy