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Mental health activists decry shortage of psychiatrists

Mental Health Unit at Gulu Referral Hospital. (FILE PHOTO)

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  Mental health activists are concerned about the inadequate number of psychiatrists in Uganda.

They say that the shortage of psychiatrists in mental health facilities in the country has greatly affected the provision of mental health services and denied several clients from accessing or getting adequate services.   

Derrick Kiiza, the Executive Director of Mental Health Uganda disclosed that there are only 43 psychiatrists in Uganda who are deployed in Mulago and Butabika National Referral Hospitals and four regional referral hospitals offering mental health services.

Mental Health Uganda is a national organization supporting people with mental health issues in the country.   

Kiiza says that out of the 43 psychiatrists, six are based in Butabika National Referral Hospital while the others are deployed only in Mulago National Referral Hospital and four Regional Referral Hospitals including Gulu, Arua, Kabale and Mbarara.   

The other nine regional referral hospitals in the country which offer mental health services reportedly have no psychiatrists in their mental health units and rely on clinically trained psychiatric nurses.   

Some of the psychiatrists are also reportedly in the administration departments with the example of six in Butabika National Referral Hospital, others are working abroad for greener pastures as well as private clinics or on special arrangements while some have already retired.  

Kiiza added that an assessment they conducted in government facilities offering mental health services discovered that there is a high level of violence, provocation, abuse, insults, and inhumane treatment of persons with mental problems due to the lack of experts deployed in such facilities.  

He disclosed that many people seeking mental health services end up being referred to private health facilities with mental health services where they are also charged exorbitantly due to inadequate staffing.  

J.J Paul Nyeko the Coordinator Mental Health Uganda at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital says that the cases of mental health illness registered at the facility are alarming yet there are shortages of service providers.   

Nyeko disclosed that some psychiatrists have also abandoned their works due to stigma, meagre pay and poor working conditions. 

A resident of Gulu City with a mental health patient told URN on condition of anonymity that she spent three days in the Mental Health Unit at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital unattended due to the absence of a psychiatrist to attend to them.   

Research conducted by the Mental Health Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) and Mental Health Uganda (MHU) in 2013 and 2014 in Uganda indicates that at least 15 cases of mental health are received daily in the National and Regional Referrals offering mental health services in Uganda while the national statistic stands at 34%.

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