Thank you Parliament, but…

BY: Dr Akwasi Osei
Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei
Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei

This is the second time in six weeks that I am openly commending Parliament. I watched excerpts of the parliamentary proceedings of Tuesday, June 19, 2018 in which Members of Parliament (MPs) discussed the case of mental health care in Ghana and called for increased funding.

This was in reaction to a statement by the MP for Oforikrom, which was read on his behalf by Dr Appiah-Kubi. The statement drew attention to the plight of persons with mental health problems and their virtual neglect by both the society and the government. The statement also expressed concern about the violence perpetrated by these persons, the lack of resources for psychiatric hospitals and lack of security for mental health workers, some of whom eventually became victims of aggression of their patients.

Positive contributions came from both sides of the divide, including the Majority and Minority leaders. The discussion showed that contributors had actually done their homework and research into the subject matter. Perhaps, let us give a great chunk of the credit to their research assistants. The speaker summed up by calling for a bill to take care of the vulnerable in society, including persons with mental illness, the disabled, children and other vulnerable members of the society.

Kudos, Members and Speaker for, at long last, adding your voices. What did not come out, was the fact that, Ghana loses seven per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to mental illness. Mental illness, together with neurological diseases, also contributes nine per cent of the burden of disease which leads to the loss of quality life (technically called Disability Adjusted Life Years or DALY loss), surpassing the dreaded HIV/AIDS which contributes seven per cent.

Our vulnerability

We are all candidates for mental illness, with one in four chance of developing it in our lifetime. At worst, if we grow old enough, our chances of developing dementia, which is a neuropsychiatric condition, are even higher. Dementia is the condition that makes one begin to behave like a child and lose his/her memory, and when it affects elderly women, they are called witches and are banished to the ‘witches’ camps. Tramadol abuse has also hit the Ghanaian streets and our youth are victim to this. These are all mental health issues. Can we wait any longer?

We have laws

Mr Speaker’s suggestion of getting a law to protect the vulnerable persons in society, including persons with mental illness, is commendable. However, this is just to remind Members and the Speaker that there already exist laws for child protection - the Disability Act and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) which Ghana has ratified, and the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) for these vulnerable people. What is left is their implementation and the enabling Legislative Instruments (LIs). For instance, I know that the Disability Act, passed in 2006, does not have an LI.

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Neither does the Mental Health Act passed in 2012, have an LI. The LI for the Mental Health Act, is ready but Parliament is not keen on passing it because they want the levy called for by the Mental Health Act to be expunged from the LI before they pass it. Without the levy, the Mental Health Act will be almost useless as we shall remain in our current plight without any hope of funding whatsoever. All Ministers of Health have been keen on helping, but enthusiasm is one thing and getting the resource to help is another. The best legacy the current Parliament can give to mental health care is to pass the LI with the levy component in it and call the Minister of Finance to establish the levy. This way, your lamentations on mental health will have been converted into genuine care. This I pray the honourable members will do as a matter of urgency.

The writer is Chief Executive, Mental Health Authority.