What you need to know:
- In Uganda, like most African countries, mental healthcare was already weak before the onset of Covid-19 pandemic.
- The country has only 47 psychiatrics, most of whom are based in Kampala, for a population of about 42 million. Furthermore, mental health units at the regional referral hospitals have been turned into isolation and treatment centres for Covid-19.
People with mental illness in Lango Sub-region are facing challenges accessing services after a psychiatric unit in Lira City was turned into Covid-19 treatment centre, Monitor has learnt.
In April 2020, the Ministry of Health turned the facility into a treatment centre following a surge in Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations across the country.
As a result, those with mental illness were advised to seek specialised care from Lira Regional Referral Hospital’s out-patient department where people with other ailments also go.
Ms Josephine Abonyo, a patient with mental illness, said: “After the unit was turned into a treatment centre for Covid-19, we were relocated to a place where hundreds of people crowd to pick their drugs. This is making life hard for us.”
She revealed that due to lack of space, some people with mental illness are sharing wards with patients suffering from other ailments.
“With the mix up, patients with mental illness sometimes end up causing trouble such as destroying other people’s property, fighting and even undressing themselves,” Ms Abonyo said.
Ms Hilda Akullu Wacha, the chairperson of Mental Health Uganda (MHU) Lira Association, said: “Many patients nowadays fear coming to Lira Regional Referral Hospital to receive their drugs because they have to line up or at times when they reach the hospital, they are told the drugs are out of stock.”
Dr Charles Moses Irera, the principal psychiatric clinical officer at Lira Regional Referral Hospital, said they have embarked on outreaches in order to address the service gap.
“Last week, during one of our outreaches in Barlonyo, we were able to attend to about 171 patients with mental illness in a single day,” he revealed.
Dr Irera added: “We then decided to get medical workers from the nearby health facilities for support, which later on eased our work. But our main problem is finances to transport health workers as the number of patients has continued to increase.”
Dr Patrick Buchan Ocen, the Lira District health officer, said they are facing challenges in delivering quality health services because of limited resource envelope.
“More attention has been given to Covid-19, leaving patients with mental illness struggling to access health services,” he said.