Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Zambia Starts Decentralising Mental Health Services

The Ndola Psychiatry Hospital under construction
By Paul Shalala in Ndola

Zambia has started decentralising psychiatry services in a bid to offer mental health services to a segment of the society which suffers stigma and discrimination.

At present, the country only has one psychiatry hospital in Lusaka: Chainama Hills Hospital.

With the increase in population and the increase in the number of people with mental problems, the need for these health services keeps growing.

This is why the Zambian government has decided to build mental hospitals in all the 10 provinces of the country.

Dr. Chitalu Chilufya (middle) touring the hospital recently
The first of such hospitals is being built in Ndola on the Copperbelt.

The structure, which is being built at the cost of K14 million is almost complete, only roofing, painting and plumbing are remaining.

The Ndola Psychiatry Hospital will have a bed capacity of 154.

The health facility is expected to open its doors to the public in July this year.

“This Psychiatry hospital will offer arrange of health services from mental health to offering refuge for drug addicts, alcoholics and rehabilitation for youths. Government wants to bring mental health services closer to people,” said Zambia’s Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya when he recently toured the construction site.

And Copperbelt Province Senior Works Supervisor Steven Makunku, who is supervising the whole project, says the facility will have several rooms for various purposes.

Dominic Chatewa 
“This hospital will have consultation rooms, a laundry room and facilities for rehabilitation. The good part I that the contractor Jearmy Enterprises is on schedule and will hand over the facility in July,” said Mr Makunku.  

The Ministry of Health has already deployed over 20 health workers to man the facility once its completed.

The team is led by Dr. Venevivi Banda, a Psychiatry specialist.

In Zambia, having a mental condition is so embarrassing that some family members are abandoned for fear of being ashamed.

This has led to many mental patients rooming the streets due to stigma.

For those who take care of them, mental patients are tied to trees or locked up in the houses to ensure they do not roam around.

But to those who are taken to the Chainama Hills Hospital for psychiatry treatment, the tag of ‘madness’ usually hangs on them.

This is why this move to decentralise mental health services across the country is being welcomed by mental health activists.

“As President of the Mental Health Advocacy and Support Initiative (MHASI), I am very delighted to learn of the development of mental healthcare facilities in Ndola. This current government has done exceptionally well in the area of promoting mental healthcare,” said Dominic Chatewa, a Lusaka-based mental health advocate.

Mr Chatewa, who himself was once treated at Chainama Hills Hospital, however says building psychiatry hospitals is not enough without a legal framework.

“As MHASI, we are still calling on the legislature to expedite the enactment of the 2021 Mental Health Bill which would replace the current archaic 1951 bill. The bill will set in motion a number of policy issues that will be of benefit to society,” he added.

The issue of mental health in Zambia is so sensitive that MHASI is among a handful of non-governmental organisations who openly advocate for the well being of mental patients.

People would not want to be associated with mental patients for fear of being labelled as a mental patients themselves.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Lack Of Libraries In Schools And How The Book Bus Is Helping

The Book Bus parked at Manyando community School in Kitwe
By Paul Shalala

It is a bus like any other, but this one is a special one.

It is a moving library.

It visits schools, providing books to schools were libraries don’t exist.

The Book Bus is an international non-governmental organisation which is providing this service in Malawi, Ecuador and Zambia.

In Zambia, The Book Bus drives to schools in Livingstone, Malambo and Kitwe where libraries do not exist.


And in Kitwe, Saint Anthony Community School was established in 1998 and this is the infrastructure where pupils have been learning from in the past 19 years.

When The Book Bus drives to the school, pupils at Saint Anthony Community School do not mind sitting on the ground to read the books.

All they want is to have a book which can help them learn.

Some times, children who are not enrolled at the school join in when they see the bus because they know that reading and learning is free of charge.
Pupils seated on the ground while reading books
at Saint Anthony Community School

"They teach us many things: how to read and write, we read different books which we don't have at our school," said Susan Mulowa, a Grade five pupil at Saint Anthony Community School.

According to management at this school, literacy levels have improved since the time The Book Bus started proving its mobile services here two years ago.


"This program is a good move. We have seen our learners improve in reading. There are some sounding letters, words and are able to read fluently. So we appreciate so much. If we compare last year and this year, there is change," said Saint Anthony Community School Headteacher Sydney Mankompa.

And in Bulangililo area within Kitwe, Manyando Community School is another beneficiary.

Here, the infrastructure is okay and pupils all learn while seated on desks.

The refurbished Children's Section at the
Kitwe City Library
And they have various stories to tell about this version of school work.

"I enjoy reading because it is very inspirational and The Book Bus helps me read every day," said Michelle Zulu, a pupil at Manyando Community School who dreams of becoming a journalist in future.

The lack of a library at Manyando Community School has been a challenge for management who have been making efforts to teach pupils without books.

Mwape Meki, the Headteacher at Manyando Community School had this to say: "In terms of literacy levels, we are a bit struggling like most schools but with the help of partners like The Book Bus, we are trying to get ourselves out of that." 


Michelle Zulu, a pupil at Manyando Community School
reading a book
Across the country, over two thousand pupils are receiving the services being offered by this mobile library for free.

The volunteers who work for The Book Bus combine reading and artistic lessons to help the pupils learn.

"We are trying to fill up the gap by providing this mobile library service because we get to drive to places where libraries are non existent. When we get into the bush like in Mfuwe which is 60 kilometers outside, we provide this service freely in areas where these kids don't have it," said The Book Bus Project Director Monica Mulenga.

At the Kitwe City Library, The Book Bus has refurbished the children section and stocked it with books.

However, very few pupils visit this section.

Most of the times, this section of the library remains underutilized despite being rich in books.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Cynthia Sichula: Stuck On Wheelchair But Teaches Five Grades

Cynthia Sichula in class with her pupils
By Paul Shalala in Luanshya

Hers, is a life lived against the odds.
With almost everything seeming to be against her, Cynthia Sichula has triumphed over her ills.

For years, she lived an ordinary and relatively healthy life of a teacher.
But little did she know, that she had a serious affliction.

She was struck with gangrene.
Gangrene is potentially a life threatening condition that happens when body tissues die,

At its worst a body part begins to rot and amputation is inevitable.
In April 2009, Cynthia’s gangrene had wasted both her legs at the knee and doctors had no option but to amputate.

"I got gangrene, i didn't know that disease. I was just told by the doctor, he explained to me. Both of my legs started drying up, i stopped feeling pain. Doctors decided to remove both legs so that in future i may wear those plastic limbs. I actually got sick on 31st December 2008 as we were going into 2009 and four months later i was amputated," said Cynthia.And so ended her life as a teacher.
Confined to a wheel chair, Cynthia had difficulties in getting a job as a teacher.

To make matters worse, her husband also lost his job at Luanshya Copper Mines when the company was placed under maintenance and care.
With both of them out of employment, Cynthia decided to form Zyuka Nursery and Primary School inside her two bedroom house in Luanshya’s Section 25 area.

"I just decided to open a school here in my living room. The school is three years old now and i have pupils from nursery to Grade four."

For the past three years that the school has been in operation, a number of pupils have passed through her hands and gone on to continue with higher education.
This is her consolation.

"I have taught many pupils at this school, some are even in upper schools. Even these who are here are very sharp. Very soon they will go to higher schools like Nkambo Primary School because here i don't have Grade five," she said.

Her condition does not make it easy for her to teach as she is confined to here wheel chair and movements restricted.

One of her challenges is writing on the board.
Cynthia Sichula listening to her pupils in class
"As for the Grades ones and the babies, someone has to move around and check what they are doing and how they are responding to the lessons. And the space here is too small, i cant move with my wheelchair to check them."

Her son, who is one of her pupils, helps out, though his assistance is limited.
But Cynthia is undaunted.

"I'm appealing to the First Lady Mrs Esther Lungu to help me with the building of the school, as you can see the classroom is too small. I only have two desks and a board," said Cynthia.
But her teaching has NOT been in vain.

Her pupils are sharp and very alive to current affairs.
When this blogger visited the school, he heard them recite the name of the President, names of all previous Presidents, Zambia's first female Vice President and the country's youngest ever diplomat Vernon Mwaanga.

The young boys and girls enjoy being taught by their sole teacher.

"She teaches very well and she is sharp," said one of the female Grade Two pupils.
And her neighbours marvel at her endurance.

"Children from this school are doing very well and the owner is making an impact in our neighbourhood. The lady needs alot of help from wellwishers," said James Katempa.
It is obvious that Cynthia is one of those rare souls, who remain undaunted and keep going even when it is darkest.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 6th April 2017 and it can be watched here.