Mentally challenged patients neglected

Manicaland has been operating without a psychiatric unit for a long time. The only facility available for patients was constructed during the colonial era resembles a prison and is in a sorry state. Broken beds are piled in a corner with shattered windows and rusting corrugated burglar bars. The unit is totally dysfunctional with some of the wards converted into storage rooms for boxes of stationery and old equipment.

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa talking to Sakubva district staff after visiting the physchatric wards.
Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa talking to Sakubva district staff after visiting the physchatric wards.

Mentally challenged people have to visit Harare health centres such as Parirenyatwa and Harare hospitals. Relatives expressed concern that it has become increasingly costly for them to travel this long distance and have called on government to construct a psychiatric unit in Mutare urgently.

Charles Sambare says that he and others have suffered long enough as a result of negligence by government, and appealed for the construction of a psychiatric hospital in Mutare as soon as possible


“Being mentally challenged does not mean one is incapable of working. We should not be neglected by society,” said Shambare. “Please help us! We desperately need a psychiatric hospital with sports facilities and exposure to learning skills. We need to exercise so that we keep our minds fit,” said Sambare, who travels to Harare for medical treatment.

During a recent tour of the hospital, David Parirenyatwa, Minister of Health and Childcare, condemned the building that had been earmarked for the psychiatric unit describing it as unfit for human habitation.

Hospital officials pleaded with the minister to ensure a psychiatric unit to house the increasing number of mentally challenged patients in Manicaland province.

Parirenyatwa said the local hospital cannot accommodate the psychiatric unit as the structure of the building is crumbling. He said his ministry would look for an alternative venue for the mental health centre

Urgent need

Sakubva district hospital matron, Sheila Chimbetete, pleaded with the minister to open a unit for an increasing number of mentally challenged patients. “There is an urgent need to have a psychiatric unit in the province as all cases of mental health care are being referred to Harare,” she said.

The provincial administrator for Manicaland, Fungai Mbetsa, also expressed concern and asked the government to assist.

Presidential Health Advisor, Timothy Stamps, has condemned the building saying it should be face lifted to be preserved as a monument since the Rhodesian government set it up pre-independence exclusively for black patients.

According to officials at Sakubva District Hospital, additional staff trained in mental health and psychiatric services are required in line with setting up the envisaged unit in the near future.

Global statistics indicate that that 20% of all adults aged 55 and older suffer from a mental disorder. In its report of 24 May 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) considered older people to be a vulnerable group with a high risk of experiencing mental health problems.

High impact

Mental health problems can have a high impact on the elderly and their ability to carry out basic daily activities reducing their independence, autonomy and quality of life. Common mental health problems include dementia, depression and anxiety.

Some of the risk factors associated with mental disorders among the elderly include genetic factors, the degeneration of brain cells, poverty, social isolation, loss of independence and human dignity as well as maltreatment at home or in care institutions.

Mental health expert, Terence Mapako, said there was a general need to improve the well-being of all people including mental patients. He said this could be achieved through promoting healthy life styles among the elderly, identifying and treating mental disorder early, attending to their social needs and involving families and communities in supporting them.

“In order to promote a healthy life style, older people need to be encouraged and educated to do more physical exercises, maintain social connections, keep their brain active, reduce their weight, stop smoking and abusing alcohol, control their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels,” said Mapako.

Poorly resourced

World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Zimbabwe, David Okello, said mental health is a generally neglected area and is poorly resourced in terms of human resources, finances and other critical materials.

“Care for the mentally ill is usually poor. The WHO advocates for the elevation of mental health programmes and that they be allocated the resources to succeed,” said Okello, adding “We are happy to be part of the country's mental health programme”.

“There is need for massive investment in the health of adults aged 60 and over, particularly their mental health. There is lack of awareness and understanding of dementia and depression at some level in most countries, resulting in stigmatisation, barriers to diagnosis and care which impacts on caregivers, families and societies physical, psychologically and economically,” he said.

With exception of a few countries, Okello said, progress in improving mental health in the region has been slow. He urged individuals, families, caregivers, communities and societies to help prevent dementia, depression and anxiety in elderly people. “We can do this by promoting a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet, adequate physical activity, stress management and the avoidance of alcohol and substance abuse. The importance of adequate treatment and care facilities needs to be emphasised,” said Okello.

He called upon governments, research institutions, civil society as well as development partners to reinforce their commitment to mental health, to improve the allocation of resources and to strengthen the capacity to diagnose and treat all forms of mental health problems. “Governments and partners are encouraged to work towards poverty reduction initiatives which will benefit elderly people and vulnerable groups,” he said.

In the African Region, the elderly population was estimated at 43 million in 2010 and it is projected to reach 67 million by 2025 and 163 million by 2050.

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