Opinions Wed, 20 Feb 2013

Mental Health… A Low Policy Priority in Ghana

Mr. James Sanahene and Miss Aisha Essuman-Mensah write:

Despite the substantial adverse impact of poor mental health on productivity and quality of life, and the emerging availability of cost-effective treatment interventions, there remain many difficulties in trying to ensure that mental health both receives a fair level of investment in low- and middle-income countries and that, when services are available, there is fair access to them.

Nonetheless, today in Ghana the focus of much health policy (and international assistance) has been on communicable diseases that lead to premature mortality, most notably HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Too often mental health only comes to the attention of policy makers after a terrible tragedy. Recent is the incident at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital where one inpatient, Akua Pokua, 27, strangled another inpatient, Charlotte Nyarko, 35, to death with a piece of cloth. Ms Pokua also caused severe injury to another inpatient. But as these events fade from memory, mental health slips off government’s priority for action.

Ghana and the Ghanaian people can be proud that frontline Human Rights defenders have long recognized this need. In the past year they pressed for at least a statement from the government. To prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of those with mental illness they went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations and individuals around the world. On March 2, 2012, Ghana’s Mental Health Bill was passed. This is no diminishing this huge accomplishment.

Regrettably the aftermath has been the same old story. Feeding crisis at Pantang Hospital, lack of attention from policy makers and the public alike, lack of resources, poor staff morale, decaying institutions, lack of leadership and inadequate information systems. This is not a Better Ghana Mr. President. We believe your office can do more.

A health issues gain priority when, 1. Political leaders publicly (as well as privately) express support for the issue, and do so in a sustained fashion; 2. Policies are enacted to proactively prevent problems and to ameliorate existing problems and 3. Resources (appropriate to the disease burden) are allocated to the issue. In the case of mental health, little has been met. Significant strides have been made, but mental health still faces major challenges in establishing itself as an initiative with meaningful political priority in Ghana.

In order to increase attention for mental health care in Ghana, Miss Aisha Essuman-Mensah, a Ghanaian national and FAAF’s Project Coordinator in North Carolina said, greater community cohesion and national governance structures need to be developed to contribute to a more unified voice regarding mental health. She further explained that, through a unified organizational network that delivers clear, consistent, and well-timed messages for policy and public consumption, Involvement of mental health care users, their families, and civil society is crucial in this regard. Unless this is done, it is likely the next “policy window” will be missed.

FAAF’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Mohammed Sahl Zabado, who is also a psychiatric nurse at Pantang Hospital stressed that, we need to develop an effective frame of integrated innovation that will ensure that mental health care in Ghana speaks with a united voice, and does so in the language of national leaders, in order to ensure public and private support for the issue. This includes engaging in frank and open discussion with dissenting voices in order to build a coherent and common language.

Mr Banson William, FAAF’s ICT developer, and also a lecturer at the Wesley Training College believes that, for mental health to gain significant attention, it is not enough to convince people that it has a high disease burden, and that there are deliverable and cost-effective interventions. Policy Makers must ensure that mental health care in Ghana demonstrates its social and economic impact. A coherent evidence base for scalable interventions that can be shown to have an impact at the structural level—on economic development and human well-being—is central. This is the language policy makers must speak. And we as concerned citizens must also help since government cannot do it alone.

The desire of For All Africa Foundation is to make more connections with people like you. To assist the foundation to anchor its advocacy request in a language understood by many and to present a well-thought-out request that shows commitment to helping people see beyond their mental health problems, recognizing and fostering their abilities, interest and dreams.

There is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. Be part of history and help change lives by becoming a member or donating anything you think can change a life or put a smile on these patients. Remember donations are not only materials. ( for more on how to become a member or donate, visit www.forallafricafoundation.com)

FAAF is about building real lives. It is both a goal or destination and a continuous, very human, process of growth change and healing. Join us.

Columnist: Sanahene, James