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.

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