The soaring figures of Ugandans who are suffering from mental disorders have instigated Members of Parliament to demand for improved psychiatric health services in the country.
According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Uganda Counseling Association as published in the media, about 14 million Ugandans are mentally sick with a majority suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.
The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Mental Health, Hon. Geoffrey Macho, urged government to mainstream mental health treatment in all government hospitals by increasing funds for psychiatric treatment, upgrading the Mental Health Unit under the Ministry of Health into a department, among others.
“We request government to put budgetary plans into the budget of the Ministry of Health concerning mental health because the money allocated to the unit of mental health is very little. We also request that this unit is upgraded to a department because 14 million people is not a small number; this is more than a quarter of the country’s population,” Macho said.
He urged that government urgently takes over the supply of mental health medicine which has been left in the hands of the private sector who sell it expensively. Macho was reacting to a statement from the Minister of State for Health (General Duties) Hon. Anifa Kawooya, on the status of operationalisation of the Mental Health Act, 2018 and the increasing need for mental health and psychiatric care in the country during the Tuesday, 10 May plenary sitting. The concern was raised by Tororo District Woman Representative, Hon. Sarah Opendi, on 27 April 2022.
In her statement, Kawooya said that government is on course to implement the new Mental Health Act 2019, which came into force on 18 February 2021. According to Kawooya, the new law introduces mental health services at community level, new referral and admission procedures and has significantly strengthened the protection of rights of people with mental health conditions.
However, operationalisation of the Mental Health Act 2019 still faces challenges of low recruitment of psychiatric personnel in health facilities, non-existence of the Uganda Mental Health Advisory Board to set standards and monitor the implementation of the Act and other regulations to properly enforce the Act.
“Some provisions of the Act require regulations for proper enforcement. A case in point is, Part III of the Act, which focuses on treatment and admission of persons with mental illness that requires guidelines on voluntary and involuntary admissions. The process of writing these regulations is ongoing….the ministry is also currently in the process of appointing and inaugurating the board members [of the Uganda Mental Health Advisory Board],” she said in the statement.
As per the Integrated Mental Health Services, a health centre IV is required to have an enrolled psychiatric nurse, while a district hospital should have a psychiatric clinical officer and two psychiatric nurses to run a mental health clinic. The Regional Referral Hospitals should have a psychiatrist and other cadres of mental health workers.
Kawooya said that so far, five out of the 13 regional referral hospital mental health departments are headed by psychiatrists and more than 15 new psychiatrists are being trained. Aruu County MP, Hon. Christopher Komakech, questioned government’s capacity to recruit and fill up all the vacant psychiatric positions due to lack of training institutions.
“Right now, there is only one psychiatric nursing school in the entire country and that is the Butabika School of Psychiatric Clinical Officers. I do not think this institution can provide us with the psychiatric nurses that we need,” Komakech said.
Koboko Municipality MP, Dr Charles Ayume, also the Chairperson of the Committee on Health, said there are less than 60 psychiatrists in the country because most people think it is not well paying, thus explaining why most of the hospitals do not have psychiatrists. He added that the committee on Health that is currently processing the Public Health (Amendment) Bill is trying to capture mental health as one of the Non-Communicable Diseases.
The Speaker, Anita Among who chaired the session, demanded that government provides countrywide counseling services for people with mental health problems.