Plight of Ingutsheni patients needs urgent redress
MENTAL illness is increasingly becoming a serious problem in Zimbabwe due to a number of factors. One of the major causes of mental disturbances is drug and alcohol abuse, with many people turning to substance abuse as a form of escape from the daily rigors of life. Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research over the years that most of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
Biological causes range from genetics (heredity) where illness can be passed down generations through genes; infections linked to brain damage, prenatal damage and exposure to toxins. Psychological causes of mental illness include severe trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse while environmental factors range from divorce, death, a dysfunctional family life, poverty, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger or loneliness.
Substance abuse is listed among the environmental causes of mental ill health and of late, this is contributing to the majority of mental cases in Zimbabwe. Despite an increasing number of people being hospitalised with mental health issues, the Government remains incapacitated to deal with the problem. Institutions such as Ingutsheni Central Hospital in Bulawayo are struggling to cope due to paltry budget allocations from Treasury against growing demand for their services.
The hospital requires at least $200 000 a month to cater for the needs of more than 600 patients but is getting less than a quarter of this amount from Government. What is compounding the situation at Ingutsheni is that the institution does not charge for its services and operates entirely on the measly allocation from Government and the benevolence of donations from well-wishers. Mental patients eat a special kind of diet due to the medication they take and food supplies at Ingutsheni often run out leaving patients on the verge of starvation.
Yesterday, we reported that the hospital had run out of sedative drugs which are crucial in suppressing violent behaviour among psychiatric patients. Staff at the hospital said last week, two nurses were beaten up by patients who are not being given drugs to calm them down. “There are no drugs to sedate the mentally ill patients at the hospital. Matrons are forcing nurses to work under these conditions and threatening to dismiss them if they don’t comply.
“Last week two nurses were beaten up by violent patients and the matter was swept under the carpet. The limited tranquilisers that are available have expired but they are still being administered on patients yet they don’t have any effect,” said a source. Hospital authorities have on several occasions appealed for donations from well-wishers to cater for the needs of patients at the institution.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa recently expressed concern over acute food and medicine shortages at Ingutsheni and said the Government was struggling to provide for the increasing number of patients at the institution. The troubles facing the institution have been compounded by some of the patients who have since made the hospital their permanent home for various reasons.
We feel the plight of patients at Ingutsheni is grave and requires urgent intervention by wellwishers and the Government. We especially appeal to the business community and other charitable organisations to come together and save the patients at Ingutsheni. The dire situation at the hospital where tranquilisers and other sedatives have run out is dangerous as it exposes staff to violent patients.
Their working environment is no longer tenable and measures should immediately be put in place to ensure that the drugs are secured as soon as possible. Authorities at the institution should also do more to highlight the plight of the hospital so that help can be sought and secured promptly. It is not helpful to conceal a grave matter such as the acute shortage of sedatives at an institution which deals with mental health.
We have reported several times elsewhere on these pages, horrific murders committed by mental patients and the courts have always averred that they’re not responsible for their actions. Matrons at Ingutsheni, who are forcing nurses to work under these conditions and threatening to dismiss them if they do not comply, are putting the lives of their underlings in grave danger. Government should ensure that the situation at Ingutsheni is not allowed to get out of hand by immediately availing drugs to treat mental patients.