HARARE - Health minister David Parirenyatwa has said economic hardships coupled with drug abuse has significantly contributed to the increase in Zimbabweans suffering from mental disorders.
An estimated 1, 3 million Zimbabweans have some form of mental illness, according to government data.
Speaking during the launch of the Zimbabwe mental health strategic plan for 2014-2018 today, Parirenyatwa said it is unfortunate that the illness is still not given the attention it deserves despite its growth.
“Sometimes we do not understand why some people go into some tempers unexpectedly," he said. "The harsh economic situation, zvikwereti unenge uchitotadza kudaira phone, people asking for money after money that you can’t pay.
“The post traumatic disorders, a lot of our soldiers were not counselled post-war and we just assume it’s over but in reality we still have a lot of problems. Another major problem is drug abuse; we need to deal with the issue of illicit drugs.”
Ministry statistics show that there are 91 390 mentally-ill patients in Zimbabwe.
“7 763 new mentally ill patients were seen in our hospitals from January to October 2014… The problem has been increasing in Africa and Zimbabwe has not been spared,” said the minister.
“We haven’t as a ministry managed to put much emphasis on the condition but we now seek to do that through the plan.”
The four-year strategic plan seeks, among other things, to guide the implementation of the Mental Health Policy of 2004 by harmonising activities, improving drug provision, training more professionals and rehabilitation of infrastructure to improve the quality of life for those living with the condition.
Notwithstanding the stigma and marginalisation of such patients in Zimbabwe’s communities, support and scope of services remain limited owing to serious funding challenges that have left institutions operating with skeletal staff.
The country has two dedicated mental hospitals, Ingutsheni in Bulawayo and Ngomahuru in Masvingo, while other major referrals have units for such patients.
“At Ingutsheni there is one instead of eight psychiatrists and Ngomahuru there is none but they need five. About 20 are needed at both Parirenyatwa and Harare Hospital but they have around 10,” Parirenyatwa said, further appealing to implementers of the plan to engage traditional leaders in the policy implementation.
"We have to deal with the root causes of such illnesses but how are we going to do that with the economic hardships?” queried the minister.
David Okello, World Health Organisation representative, said the organisation has noted with concern the relegation of mental health, prevention and substance control to mediocre subjects.
“I also feel there is need to train a lot more other support professionals and I’m appealing for the expansion of staff retention allowances to psychiatric services,” he said.
Paula Morgan, Centre for Disease Control deputy director, said, “The plan will promote the rights of such people, fight stigma and help the integration of services in Primary Health care and HIV services.”