'Mental illness drugs in shortage'

HARARE - Poor access and a shortage of psychotropic drugs for mental patients could be the hindering factor towards treatment, a leading medical donor agency said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) head of mission Abi Kebra Belaye said drug stock-outs are common in communities across Zimbabwe, leaving patients stranded.

Belaye’s worry comes as an estimated 10 percent of the Zimbabwean population are said to be experiencing a mental illness of some sort.

“Psychotropic accessibility alone is insufficient. Although prescribers at central or specialised facilities may have access to an array of psychotropics, they must carefully consider that psychotropics are available at primary level to facilitate patients’ treatment continuity following discharge.

“In Zimbabwe, certain psychotropics such as Risperidone are frequently prescribed at specialised clinics but once patients are at home in their communities, they find that the same drugs are not available at primary care facilities and that drugs such as Risperidone are more expensive than others,” she said.

She added that the added costs of purchasing the expensive mental health drugs can be a burden for patients and care-givers as well as pose a challenge to already overstretched primary health facilities.

“To guarantee a basic level of mental health coverage, MSF calls upon government and other donors to maintain a steady supply of essential drugs, ensuring that at least one medication is made available to treat five key mental illnesses in each healthcare facility while multiple medication options are accessible at larger hospitals and specialised clinics,” Belaye said.

The MSF head of mission however, warned against the misuse of psychotropic drugs, arguing that they were the easiest to abuse.

She said the drugs should only be used to treat mental health patients, not to control or sedate them if they exhibit aggressive behaviour.

Belaye highlighted that MSF witnessed untrained healthcare workers in overcrowded and understaffed facilities improperly sedating patients under the assumption that drugs that knock them out in the shortest time are the best.

The MSF chief’s remarks come as psychiatrist Munyaradzi Madhombiro argued that the shortages of some mental drugs is artificial, as patients use them to get high.

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