UGANDANS POKE NEW MENTAL HEALTH BILL AS POST-COLONIAL ACT IS REPEALED

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Dr. Stella Nyanzi (left) and Hon. Betty Aol Ocan, Gulu Woman Member of Parliament, (center) before the Parliamentary Committee on Health.

“We don’t know her parents. She was found dumped in a dustbin. A Good Samaritan took her to Mama Maliam, then keeping orphans and abandoned children like Apici. Mama Maliam, who is my paternal aunt, then brought her here. We have since, been keeping her”

“Nobody knows the fathers of her children. She is very aggressive towards boys and we believe that someone waylays and rapes her on her way home from Laliya Trading Center late in the evenings. We only notice her pregnancies when they are in advanced stages”

GULU-UGANDA: “You are a very lucky woman to have two babies; unlike me who has no child nor husband!”, Ms. Anne, a social worker from Hungary who deals with human rights of people with mental disabilities worldwide, tells seventeen-year Ms. Millie Apici (not real names).

“Nobody knows the fathers of her children. She is very aggressive towards boys and we believe that someone waylays and rapes her on her way home from Laliya Trading Center late in the evenings. We only notice her pregnancies when they are in advanced stages”, explains Ms. Evelyn Abalo.

Watoto Church Orphanage took custody of the first child, Joyce Lagum but refused to take on the second child, Angel Lakica; born a few months after the first child

Ms. Millie Apici a beautiful young girl lives in Oguru village, Laliya parish which is located just on the outskirts of Gulu city in northern Uganda. She has lived with mental disability since childhood.

Her parents are not known. She was found abandoned and dumped by her unknown mother in a dustbin in Gulu City during the height of the insurgency in northern Uganda about seventeen years ago.

 “We don’t know her parents. She was found dumped in a dustbin. A Good Samaritan took her to Mama Maliam, then keeping orphans and abandoned children like Apici. Mama Maliam, who is my paternal aunt, then brought her here. We have since been keeping her”, Ms. Evelyn Abalo explains.

“We began to see her mental abnormality right from childhood and this prevented us from sending her to school. Our challenge as a family is how to ensure that her two children are sent to school”.

Ms. Anne, who flew into Uganda from Hungary recently, learnt about the plight of Ugandans like Ms. Apici who suffer from mental illness through Mental Health Uganda, a local Non-Governmental Organization which works with people with mental disabilities.

Anne is worried that a person who cannot make informed decision on her sex life like Apici can easily get infected with HIV/AIDS since there is apparently no law which protects people like her.

The law governing mental health, The Mental Treatment Act, was last updated in 1964. It does not take into account modern knowledge and discoveries regarding the treatment and care of mentally ill persons and is not Human Rights based.

It was basically custodial, to remove people with mental disorders from society and keep them confined without much considerations of clinical care.

There is a new law in the offing called The Mental Health Bill, 2014, which is currently before the Parliamentary Committee on Health.

The object of the new law/bill is to provide for care and treatment for persons with mental illness, at primary health centers, to ensure that persons with mental illness are enabled to seek treatment voluntarily; to ensure the safety and protection of persons with mental illness and the protection of their rights and the safety of the people who come into contact with then; among other objects.

One of the Ugandans who appeared before this committee on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, is renowned scholar and critics of the regime, Dr. Stella Nyanzi of Makerere University, who was charged with cyber harassment and offensive communications against the president of Uganda.

“In my first week at Luzira Women’s Prison, two strangers who identified themselves as government psychiatrists intruded upon my mandatory health checkup (where I was testing for HIV). They attempted to commence an involuntary mental examination to which I strongly objected in the strongest terms possible”, says Dr. Nyanzi.

“In spite of several delays in the process of enacting the Mental Health Bill (2014), the legislation provides an opportunity for mental health law reform aimed at re-writing a progressive law that protects one of the most vulnerable social groups, namely people with mental disabilities and mental illness”.

According to another scholar, Professor Seggane Musisi, a Senior Researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at Makerere University, the proposed new bill has four major omissions; namely that it does not address itself to the issue of rehabilitation and chronic care of mentally disabled individuals; it has no section specifically dealing with children and adolescents.

“Often the mental health problem of children and adolescents stem from family dysfunction including neglect, abuse and violence. The bill should address itself to the treatment needs of families and minors (Children and Adolescents) afflicted by mental health problems”, says Professor Musisi.

He says the bill also misses out on the ill-health of drugs and alcohol which cause physical, mental and social health problems; and that it does not address itself to offending mentally ill individuals.

According to the State-Owned New Vision newspaper of February 5, 2018, Uganda has only 32 psychiatrics for 34 million people. 20% (percent), 6.8 million people have some degree of mental illness, ranging from anxiety, depression and severe madness. 5% (percent) of children in Uganda have epilepsy.  

 

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