The Mental Health Authority (MHA) says an estimated 20,000 persons suffering mental illness roam various streets and public places across the country.
Out of the number, about 2,000 of such victims can be found in Accra and Tema both major cities in the Greater Accra Region.
The Chief Executive Officer of the MHA, Dr Akwasi Osei, in an interview with the Ghanaian Times yesterday, said the high number of roaming patients in these cities was attributable to weak family systems to support victims as well as inadequate funds on the part of the authorities to ensure continuous care.
“Accra and Kumasi have the greatest concentration of such patients and by virtue of the fact that Greater Accra is cosmopolitan the traditional family structure is not as strong here as it is in the other regions,” he said.
“You also cannot rule out the fact that we have two psychiatric hospitals here and it is possible some may run away from the facilities to the community. Even in the other regions when people find such patients, they bring them to Accra so all these account for the high number of roaming patients,” Dr Osei noted.
According to Dr Osei, a four-year strategic plan (2019-2023) on implementation by the MHA seeks to take such persons off the streets for treatment and re-integration into society.
“In our earlier attempt, about seven years ago to take these people off the streets, we took only 100 people out of the 1,600 we recorded in Greater Accra. They were well, we took them home but because we did not continue to extend services to all of them some were left on the streets, he stated.
Dr Osei continued “With this new measure, we are ensuring that, as we bring them out of the streets for treatment, we are producing more psychiatric nurses in the communities so they can attend to them so we will bring them for treatment, prevent them from developing illnesses and ensure monitoring in the communities so they do not end up on the streets again.”
On the issue of inequitable distribution of mental health professionals across the country, the CEO noted that the Authority was working with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to resolve the challenge.
“At present we have 39 psychiatrists and they are mostly in Accra. Across the country, we have only one in the Volta, (they were two but one is retired), three in Central Region, five in Ashanti and rest are in Accra and we hope that by the end of the four-year period we will have at least one psychiatrist in all the 16 regions.”
Under the strategy, Dr Osei again outlined plans to construct psychiatric wings in all regional hospitals as well as train more community mental health workers to provide community based mental health care.
He added that by the end of the period, “traditional and faith based healers will have completely stopped all shackling of patients and in place would have served as informal frontline community mental health workers with adequate training.”
Dr Osei pegged the cost of the four-year strategy at GH¢ 254 million per year and appealed to relevant authorities as well as well-meaning Ghanaians and development partners to support investment in the sector to promote the mental well-being of all.
BY ABIGAIL ANNOH