Ghana must urgently fix inhuman mental health system – Human Rights Watch

witch-camp-1An international human rights watchdog has told Ghana to take urgent measures to fix its inhuman and degrading mental health system.

According to the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Ghana government should take steps to implement the 2012 Mental Health Act before the end of 2013.

The call comes in wake of a recent visit to Ghana by a UN expert who highlighted the need to end abuses against people with mental disabilities in the country.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, in his visit from November 8-14, expressed deep concern about the state of Ghana’s mental health care system, and called for urgent reform of both psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps warehousing those with mental disabilities.

“The UN expert on torture expressed serious concerns about the use of electro-shock therapy and prolonged shackling of people with mental disabilities,” Shantha Rau Barriga, HRW’s disability rights director said November 19, 2013.

Barriga indicated that “He [Mendez] sent a clear message: the Ghanaian government should do what it takes to end this inhuman and degrading treatment – and it should do so soon.”

“People with mental health problems need community-based support, not electro-shock treatment,” Barriga said.

As a first step, the HRW said Ghana needs to carry out the provisions of the 2012 Mental Health Act, including setting up the oversight mechanism to begin visiting mental health facilities and unregulated prayer camps across the country.

The HRW early this year documented mistreatment of people with mental disabilities in Ghana in its 2012 report titled “Like a Death Sentence’: Abuses against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Ghana.” The report described how thousands of people with mental disabilities such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are forced to live in psychiatric hospitals, often against their will, and with little possibility of challenging their confinement.

In the 2012 report, the HRW found that at least hundreds – and possibly thousands – of people with mental disabilities are kept in prayer camps associated with pentecostal and evangelical churches. Managed by self-proclaimed prophets, these camps were believed to operate completely outside of government control. It said “People with mental disabilities at these camps do not receive any medical treatment and instead are forced to take herbal concoctions or deprived of any food or water for days. Some had been at the prayer camps for as long as five years.”

The group encouraged the government to create community-based support services, including housing and health care that enable people with mental disabilities to live in the community.

It said the government should ensure that people are not forcefully detained in prayer camps or psychiatric hospitals and that they have access to mechanisms to challenge any violations of their rights.

The HRW said it “hope that the special rapporteur’s visit will spark real change in Ghana’s mental health care system. Thousands of people are counting on it.”

By Ekow Quandzie

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