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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
How should Africa treat the mentally ill?
The World Health Organisation has warned that many countries will be unable to cope with a predicted boom in mental illness over the next decade.

The findings are from its annual report published this week.

Africa is a continent which finds it hard to afford treatment for mental patients.

Many are either cared for by their families or left on the streets. In some countries they are kept in chains.

What should be done with the mentally ill? What would be the best way for African governments to spend their resources?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Poverty is a major cause of mental illness

Garth, Zimbabwe
I think there has always been greater acceptance of the mentally ill in African societies and therefore less need to institutionalise these people. As I see it, poverty is a major cause of mental illness. We need to raise people's standard of living so that their nutrition is correct and they no longer have to struggle to survive.
Garth, Zimbabwe

This is a really important subject and there are two basic institutions that come into play: the traditional African family structure and modern hospitals. However, many countries are currently hurting due to years of misrule and corruption. The traditional family still stands but the modern hospital is barely staggering, if not on its knees. Caught in between - like so many other needy segments of society - are the mentally ill. How can they be helped? I wish I had the answer.
Wilson Wanene, USA

As a student of mental health here in the US, I have found a lot of things that happen to people in Africa are due to mental illness. Unfortunately, most Africans explain these conditions in terms of witchcraft or demonic activities. The first step would be to educate people about the nature of mental illness.
Eliakim Mwakapiso, Tanzania/ USA

People with mental illness need great care. I have two brothers who are mental ill but their condition is now stable. We are taking care of them at home. At least once a month they receive an injection (modicate) and tablets (CPZ). The community should not cold shoulder mental ill people. I am very luck, in my community people understand my brothers. They don't shun them. The good part of it also is that the government supply the drugs free of charge.
Honest Chimusimbe, Zimbabwe

In African societies the mentally sick are perceived as being mad or having been bewitched. Their own families therefore deny them medical care and other rights. Governments need to devise proper educative programmes to enlighten ordinary people, not only about mental but also other illnesses. Above all illiteracy and ignorance must be conquered.
Kisitu Willy, Ugandan in Poland

We have many spiritual healers who actually cure mental illness completely

I think it starts with how Africans view mental illness in the first place. The problem is usually, if not always, attributed to evil spirit possession, and Africans prefer to deal with it in their own traditional ways of healing. In Ethiopia we have many spiritual healers who actually cure mental illness completely. I have been a witness myself and I can assure you it works. It's only a matter of faith.

The mentally ill should be accepted and helped by society. First, governments should invest in dealing with the causes of mental illness. Most of these spring from poverty and harsh environments. Secondly, governments should set aside resources that will go a long way in treating cases related to mental health.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

Unless African leaders address the problems of war and poverty there will continue to be a rise in the number of mentally ill people in our countries. Solve these problems and I bet there will be a dramatic decrease in the number of cases in Africa.
Dolores Samuka, Liberia

The message to the people should be that these illnesses can be treated or controlled

Abdirizak Mohamud, Ottawa, Canada
African doctors could play a pivotal role in educating the public about mental illness. To many families the whole issue remains a mysterious one. The secrecy and the shame that surround the disease prevent its victims from receiving proper treatment. The message to the people should be that these illnesses can be treated or controlled. Access to medication is, of course, a wholly different topic.
Abdirizak Mohamud, Ottawa, Canada

The first time I saw a psychiatric hospital was in Kaduna in Nigeria. Prior to then, I did not know that mental illness had any western medical cure. Growing up in North Western Cameroon, the few cases I saw being treated were handled by traditional or native doctors. Some cases were successfully treated, but others were beyond cure. Sadly, those doctors have since passed away without passing on their craft or expertise to future practitioners.
Che Sunday, Cameroon/USA

We keep wasting time asking these silly questions when there is only one real question worth asking. When will the rich world abandon its unilateral trade embargo on developing nations? Poverty is the cause of all the ills there.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya

The proliferation of mentally ill patients on the streets of most African countries is a clear indication of the lack of concern governments and health authorities in Africa have for the mentally ill. In most societies they are left to roam the streets endlessly and in pitiable conditions. Perhaps, this disregard for the mentally ill is best shown in the abhorrent conditions prevailing in most mental homes in which they live. There is evidence of maltreatment of patients, poor hygienic conditions, starvation, neglect, or, in certain instances, physical brutality.
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/Sierra Leone

With primary health care dwindling, little attention is paid to mental illness

Huruma, Canada
African economies continue to shrink in the new era of globalisation and the social infrastructure continues to fracture. With primary health care dwindling, little attention is paid to mental illness. With most of the cash being siphoned abroad or invested in arms to keep dictatorial regimes in power, even malaria has become a problem to these countries. Mental facilities were originally available immediately after independence. But these resources became neglected or underfunded. Hence, the marginalised mental patients who are left untreated. In future, any aid has to be tied to improvement of these sanatoriums in order for the mentally ill to benefit. Also, like any other illness, awareness has to be beefed up to contain this appalling situation of mental illness.
Huruma, Canada

Most African countries are in constant political turmoil and unrest. Until this major issue is resolved important heath issues will be ignored and ultimately the unfortunate people are the ones to always suffer. African leaders are so caught up with finding ways to stay in power that they give no thought to social and economic development.
Tehome H, Canada

Unfortunately the rates keep going up unabated. I have been a lone ranger in promoting the treatment of mental health in Nigeria to no success. The government in most African countries doesn't give a damn about this particular issue. We were informed,"It is not a priority". I am glad to see that at least the issue is being discussed in this forum.
Adam Galla, USA

See also:

07 Apr 01 | Health
Stark warning on mental illness
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