For mentally ill patients in Kisumu, it’s a hard life

Thursday July 30 2015

A ward for mental patients at the Kisumu

A ward for mental patients at the Kisumu District Hospital. PHOTO | VERAH OKEYO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By VERAH OKEYO
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By WINNIE ATIENO
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Mentally ill patients at the Kisumu County Hospital live under inhuman conditions.

Their meals are delivered in dirty utensils that are only washed occasionally, a Nation investigation has found.

A bucket of porridge is placed at the entrance to a mentally ill patient's room and an attendant pushes it in by foot, after which a grilled door is loudly locked from the outside.

The patients scramble for their dirty cups near the entrance, with which they scoop the porridge.

Jarius (not his real name), an outgoing patient, has been in this facility for over a decade because his family abandoned him. He has just washed his shirt, with no soap, and says he wishes he had doughnuts to take the porridge with.

The ward is poorly lit and without much ventilation, and the floor is dirty. Some beds have no mattresses, while the bed sheets, which seem to have once been white, are torn and have since turned brown.

There is no water at the toilets, which had not been cleaned when the Nation team visited.

The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Amos Otedo, declined to comment for this article.

Studies show mentally ill patients outside Nairobi suffer the most due to lack of enough psychiatric professionals, but there is little hope that the situation will change, since county governments have not paid adequate attention to the issue.

A report, Silenced Minds: The Systemic Neglect of the Mental Health System in Kenya, concludes that the conditions that mental patients are made to live in are inhuman and insanitary.

Coupled with that is the society’s apathetic attitude toward the mentally ill.

At the Kisumu County Hospital, which runs the region’s only public mental health unit, patients lose their dignity.

Their plight is only a small portion of the woes that the hospital has been facing due to lack of money and an acute staff shortage.

Late last year, Kenya Power disconnected electricity to the hospital owing to Sh700,000 in unpaid bills, forcing the administration to transfer patients, including babies, to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.

NEGLECT

The hospital has had its fair share of stockouts of non-pharmaceutical supplies.

A worker, who asked not be named for fear of victimisation, said the hospital’s management draws up budgets, which include the needs of the mental health unit, but funds allocated by the county government are barely enough to pay staff and buy essentials such as food.

A walk into the facility reveals serious infrastructural deficiencies: the mother-and-child clinic that serves children under five is squeezed, its waiting bay a tiny corridor that cannot accommodate a bench, and there is no casualty area.

Due to accidents caused by bicycles and motorcycles, the hospital receives many patients, who have to share beds. The paint on the walls is peeling off, evidence of years of neglect.

Once a military facility in the colonial years, the hospital’s architecture was not changed to fit the function it now serves.

Sources in the hospital’s accounting department estimate that it collects about Sh3 million per month, which is banked in a central account.

Ideally, the money should be refunded to the hospital with an additional amount allocated by the county government.

That is never the case. The money is never given back to the hospital or only part of it is refunded.

The dental unit does not have a dental chair, and hence patients have to seek services at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.

When the Nation sought Kisumu Chief County Health Executive Lusi Ojwang’s comment on the hospital’s woes, he said: “We will do something about it. We have allocated money for it.”