Psychiatrists decry mental health care in Africa

Friday, July 19, 2013

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The drugs given to many of Africa’s psychiatric patients are often administered to keep the patients asleep so the hurried nurses can get some rest, and those who can’t sleep may have their hands or feet tied up.

Yet these patients may be considered lucky, because across Africa most of those who need psychiatric care don’t ever get it. Caregivers are few and health facilities even fewer, tragic circumstances on a continent where armed conflict, disease and rampant poverty have left millions of people traumatized and in urgent need of professional help.

Now, thanks in part to a U.S.-based organization founded by the family of a young man killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, African psychiatrists and mental health experts are determined to change what they all agree is the alarming condition of mental health care across the continent. Experts are meeting in the Ugandan capital this week to press their governments to spend more on mental health care as well as train caregivers to treat patients with knowledge and compassion.

The Peter C. Alderman Foundation, which underwrote the conference in Kampala, says it seeks to build “mental health capacity in post-conflict countries,” especially by training caregivers and running clinics that treat thousands of patients each year. The conference drew more than 500 participants, including scores of African students who hope to swell the ranks of a specialty that seldom attracts the attention of sub-Saharan Africa’s impoverished governments.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Seggane Musisi, a professor of psychiatry at Uganda’s Makerere University, said, talking about the foundation’s mission. “I wish we had more of that on the African continent.”

Source: Associated Press (link opens in a new window)

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