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Abuse of mental health patients in prayer camps must stop …their human rights must be respected

A recent report which was prepared by Mind Freedom Ghana and presented by Perfecto of Sentiment (POS) foundation during the 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review has called on Parliament to pass the Legislative Instrument to the Mental Health Act to foster the regulation of the activities of prayer camp operators and other faith based healers to effectively protect the rights of persons to their health.

Per Articles 26 (2) and 29 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, all citizens including persons with disabilities are entitled to the right to health and other rights without any discrimination or hindrances.

The Mental Health Act 2012, (Act 846) was enacted to cater fully for the quality mental healthcare and rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities but mentally ill persons continue to be physically abused in various forms in some of the hundreds of prayer camps and faith based healers, located mainly in the southern regions of Ghana.

Regrettably, sections of the populace believe strongly that the abusive practices in prayer camps are justified by religiosity that can only be treated by spiritual leaders and practices rather than that of orthodox medical practices.

These prayer camps which are currently operating under no state regulations, albeit some level of oversight exists through the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, a non-governmental umbrella body for churches and evangelical associations in the country.

A Human Rights Watch research report in October 2012 titled “Like a Death Sentence: Human Rights violations against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Prayer Camps in Ghana” gave vivid accounts of the inhumane practices in prayer camps. Some of the peoples with mental health problems are forced into fasting and deprivation of water, forced application of concoctions to mentally ill persons, shackling of persons with mental health conditions to trees and objects in the open sun for days which expose them in various ways to vectors.

In some cases, some of them who were shackled for long periods develop wounds on their arms and legs which were not treated or simply ignored. These in the long run became gangrene and sadly lead to amputation of the affected arms or legs. Some of the persons with mental disorders at the prayer camps develop physical health conditions such as malaria, severe cough and body rashes which many a time are not treated and eventually culminate in fatalities.

According to the report,due to inadequate funding by Government to procure basic medications and logistics such as gloves, adequate number of nurses and other medical staff, among others, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital medical staff, in October 2016, embarked on a sit-down strike for about two weeks which led to the discharge of some of the patients even though their conditions had not improved.

The report further added that infrastructure was and still is a major challenge as only three regional hospitals in Ghana namely Volta, Brong-Ahafo and Eastern, have the standard 10 to 20 bed units as psychiatric wings. Four other regions namely Northern, Upper West, Upper East and Western, have facilities where they can only admit patients for a few hours in the day. Plans for the building of regional psychiatric hospitals have not taken off yet, let alone have any drawings made to this effect.

Inadequate supply of medications, equipment and other logistics seriously affect good mental healthcare and put the lives of the medical staff at risk from some patients who sometimes become aggressive and violent because of their mental health conditions.

The report indicated that, due to lack of incentives and other forms of motivations in the mental health sector along with stigmatization, many nurses are not attracted to work in the mental health sector which is causing shortage of medical staff but place huge burden of work on the disproportionate few who work at these mental health facilities and it is also a contributing factor why people look forward to these prayer camps for healing.

By: Latifa Carlos


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