By Our Reporter
When the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic in March 2020, the government responded by putting several measures in place to curb its spread and also ensure preparedness to handle any cases. Among these was imposing a total lockdown and also setting up auxiliary treatment centers for COVID-19 cases. This is when mental health facilities were also turned into COVID-19 wards.
“When the country went into lock down, the Ministry of Health directed regional referral hospitals with exception of Mbarara, Gulu and Fort Portal to give away the mental health units to treatment of Covid-19.” Derrick Kizza, the executive director of Mental Health Uganda told media on Monday. “This meant that people with mental health problems could not be admitted anymore.”
However, even with the cases going down as shown by recent statistics from the Ministry of Health, there seems to be no indication that they will reopen the facilities to mental health patients anytime soon.
This has left mental health activists worried and they are now calling on the government to consider re-opening of mental health clinics at regional and referral hospitals across the country.
“There seems to be no clear plan by the Ministry of Health as to when they are giving the mental health clinics back. What is even more disturbing is that they are actually setting up Intensive Care Unit infrastructures at some of the mental health wards. We have seen this in Hoima and Moroto.” Derrick Kizza added.
“If they are not getting us those units back, then, what are they giving us? People with mental health problems will need admission and they just can’t be admitted in medical wards. We need a clear way forward on this.” He concluded.
The pandemic seems to have exacerbated the mental health problem as there has been a reported increase in new cases of mental illness and relapses of the patients that were already on medication.
Butabika hospital alone registered over 1,680 new cases after easing of lockdown in July last year, which was way above their usual average of 800 – 900 patients.