Ministry decries shortage of psychiatrists

Butabika hospital is Uganda's only National Referral Mental Health facility. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • The World Health Organisation (2014) estimates that 90 per cent of people with mental illnesses receive no treatment in Uganda.

Uganda has only 50 psychiatrists, majority of whom are based at Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital, a Ministry of Health official has revealed.

Ms Hasfa Ssentogo, the assistant commissioner for Mental Health, said whereas the country is experiencing an increase in the number of people with mental health problems, there are a few doctors to attend to them.

“Currently we have 50 physiatrists and the majority are at Butabika hospital because they are supper specialised and cannot be lowered. They are specialised in child and adolescent mental health, forensic and maternal health,” she told journalists in Kampala yesterday.

Ms Ssentongo added that a new survey is needed to know the prevalence of mental health problems in the country, saying they last held one in 2001.

“This (survey) has taken long because we have been getting limited funding as the mental health department,” she said.
Ms Ssentongo, however, stressed that amid the shortage of specialists, mental health cases can be managed by different health workers, including social workers and counsellors.

She was speaking at the launch of the project dubbed ‘Addressing Drivers of Conflict in Uganda’ organised by Safer World,  and Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), two international NGOs.

The three-year project funded by the Swedish government seeks to contribute to more peaceful, secure and resilient communities in Uganda. It will implemented in different parts of the country.

Mr Patrick Sambaga, the country director TPO, said they consider mental health as one of the main issues, which contribute to peace in our communities.

“Mental health is very central to anybody’s well-being; you cannot talk about development without mental health because everybody needs to be mentally fine and in order,” he said. 

According to Dr Juliet Nakku, the executive director of Butabika hospital, the doctor-patient ratio at the mental facility is 1:100.

“At Butabika hospital, we receive between 850 and 1000 patients a day and yet we have only 11 psychiatrics who are supposed to take care of all those patients,” she said.

Dr Nakku also noted that they have been having 47 psychiatrics but in the recent graduation, they got more three. 

The World Health Organisation (2014) estimates that 90 per cent of people with mental illnesses receive no treatment in Uganda.  According to the National Institute on Mental Health , more men than women report mental illness.