Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital is one of the unsung medical facilities, if you may, in this country. Here is why. When many fall sick, they run to public hospitals around the country. Mulago hospital, Uganda Cancer Institute and Uganda Heart Institute are some of the health centres many people run to, to receive help.
Even though these institutions have had their fair share of bad press, with media houses telling their woes of lack of medication, expertise and loss of lives, sometimes carelessly, the public still has faith in them and flock to them in droves.
For Butabika hospital, as it is commonly known, the story is different. People do not want to even be associated with the place. Many do not want to take their mentally ill patients there, or to tell anyone that they have a patient there. The stigma that comes with having a mentally ill loved one is great. And yet, Butabika hospital is helping to deal with this problem.
In an article published in this Monday's Daily Monitor's titled, 'Inside Butabika: The fear of mental treatment, the executive director of the hospital, Dr David Basangwa, says it treats about 7,000 inpatient mental health cases and 30,000 outpatient mental health cases annually. This is the country's centre for treating mentally ill patients and yet the number of staff is so small.
Dealing with mentally ill patients is no easy task. First, there is the general stigma, as noted earlier, that comes with the disease. Secondly, the patients come with different ailments and unfortunately some are violent. Thirdly, unlike with other institutions where the medical staff deal with people who have normal behaviour, with mental hospitals, they are dealing with people who are not in full control of their mental faculties.
Fourthly, as Ms Alezuyo, a psychiatric clinical officer at the children's ward, says in the article, they have a high rate of return patients – people who come with illnesses are treated and recover well, but they go back home to no support which triggers the illness and, therefore, return, no doubt making the medical workers feel helpless. Clearly anyone who dedicates their career to dealing with the mentally ill must be applauded.
Butabika hospital's efforts must be lauded. They must be supported to do more. There is great need in terms of equipment and the number of staff needed to look after the patients. Also, general awareness of the public about the facts of mental illness needs to be done so that people are supportive towards the hospital and their patients. The more people know, the more help patients will get.