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Ghana Urged To Improve Conditions Of Mental Patients

A United Nations Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, has urged the government to do more to protect the rights of persons with mental illness, and provide sufficient funds, among other things, to improve their living conditions.

He said despite some level of progress being made by government in the areas of the passage of the Mental Health Act, and the establishment of the Mental Health Board, a lot more needed to be done to improve the health conditions of mental patients.

The Rapporteur said this at a news briefing at the end of a four-day follow-up visit to Ghana on Wednesday.

Mr Mendez is the independent expert tasked by the United Nations Human Rights Council with monitoring and reporting on the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

He assessed critical issues in the criminal justice systems, including conditions of detention, as well as mental healthcare practices, particularly treatment and living conditions of persons held in psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps.

Mr Mendez noted that “while current practices are similar to those observed during my last visit, progress is being made in the implementation of the mental health act and associated programmes established by its managing Mental Health Authority.”

He said though initial steps have been taken to decentralize mental health care, setting up visiting committees in the regions needed to be followed up by the passage of the Acts and Legislative Instrument, sufficient allocation of funds to its programmes, and actual changes of treatment and living conditions of mentally ill patients on the ground.

Mr Mendez added that private institutions treating mentally ill patients, such as prayer camps, must also be regulated and monitored by the programmes.

“I saw patients chained onto walls and forced to fast in a prayer camp,” the right expert said.

“These practices are frankly unacceptable and constitute torture, and the state of Ghana can no longer close its eyes to these practises,” he added.

The rapporteur said he agreed with Ghana’s approach to using persuasion and engagement to monitor and enforce existing laws and regulations, and to obtain co-operation from prayer camps under the guidance and supervision of science-based, appropriately trained mental health professionals.

This, he said, was based on the understanding of the cultural practices, and that families approached prayer camps voluntarily.

However, he said, no culture and tradition could be invoked to justify harmful practises to individuals.

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