Opinions Thu, 8 Mar 2007

Ghana@50: Celebrating the Human Rights and Dignity of Ghanaians with Special Needs?

After fifty years of political independence which also cleared the way for the development of the various sectors of the economy if we are still having to “clear all mental health patients and beggars wandering within the national capital” in an organized swoop only as an exercise of beautification, then there isn’t really much to be celebratory about at 50!

Let the minister for Presidential Affairs who also doubles as Chief of Staff who gave this directive as part of measures to beautify Accra scratch his head and come up with a better solution to address this problem. Could we have had a better way of dealing with the issue of mental health patients on our streets? To have waited until the proverbial and over used ‘last minute’ to order people with mental illness, developmental disabilities of various kinds and the homeless to be suddenly bundled up because the Queen’s substitute is showing up in Accra is not good enough.

Certainly Mr. Mpiani could have done better than this in his consultation and collaboration with the social welfare department and the ministry of health. This is not to lay blame with the Chief of Staff for the problems facing the area of mental health and developmental disabilities in Ghana. This is only to draw attention to an area, which though with great need has been ignored, to say the least. If celebratory plans are drawn sector-by-sector and subsector-by-subsector, maybe the government agencies in charge of mental health and developmental disability can highlight what golden cause victims of mental illness and developmental disability have to celebrate Ghana @ 50.

Certainly this is not only a time to rid them of the ‘beautiful city of Accra’ but also a time to consider factors such as promoting, maintaining and restoring the dignity, well-being and mental health of such individuals. It is imperative to ponder resourceful rehabilitative programs, which provide a comprehensive variety of social support services and habilitation skills training for people with mental illness and developmental disability. The families and network of healthcare and social workers that struggle with inadequate resources to provide some dignity in the lives of Ghanaians with special needs do not deserve a sudden influx of personal care items at Asylum Down and Pantang hospitals. It is needless to repeat that in this area too the root causes of the problem need to be addressed, not a shameless “swoop” and “clearing” exercise.

As we all recall this is not the first time the authorities have descended on this disadvantaged group in a hurried move to hide them in an attempt to deepen their invisibility and mute their voices further. This “swooping”, “clearing” and “removal” exercise is conducted every time a ‘big man’ or ‘big woman’ is coming to town and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly is ordered to remove them as they clear other undesirable elements from public view.

It is essential to shed the cynicism that the physically and developmentally disabled people are being sponsored by business tycoons “to stand at vantage points to beg for alms” as recounted by Mr. Mpiani. This is not to say that some able bodied persons are not engaged in this practice, which is also characteristic of, industrialized countries. Perhaps one of the clear divides is the rate of prevalence in poor and developing countries in relation to the West and not the prevalence of such practices per se.

With all its resources, well-structured restorative and rehabilitative programs even advanced countries such as the United States of America face this challenge. It is not rare to find a self-described homeless person very well dressed, standing at a traffic light holding a sign asking for money in return for profuse blessings from God, all scribbled on a cardboard in the so-called developed world. That notwithstanding our government cannot be excused for the neglect of the mental health and developmental disability sector of our health system.

Some progress may have been made with regard to work on legislation regarding persons with special needs albeit on drawing boards, but as we reflect on where we have come from through this journey and particularly where are headed towards, we should pause for a moment to think about concrete measures to improve the lives of the mentally ill, the disabled and the homeless in order to alleviate their situation. Hopefully the next time the Chief of Staff talks about these disadvantaged people in our society he may be cutting the tape to a resourceful rehabilitative program as part of efforts to restore some dignity to this sector of the population.

To the ‘Ministry of the Beautification of Accra’, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Manpower and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs here is a tip, work in consultation with the poorly resourced psychiatric hospitals, the network of health and social workers struggling towards some form of a dignified health care delivery to their patients, clients and consumers and not the AMA! Other cities in Ghana can tap into this also, it might just work. And oh! If you are doing so, shall we see the evidence on the streets, or better still off the streets!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Akoto, Yaa Afrakoma