•The hospital is currently serving 700 patients including some offenders under maximum security
•From the tour, the team established that the physical infrastructure at the largest mental facility in the country requires upgrading
Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital will have to undergo serious upgrade to tackle the increasing mental health burden in the country.
Founded in 1910, the hospital, which neighbours the sprawling Mathare slum, is currently serving 700 patients, including some offenders under maximum security serving various prison terms.
The Mental Health Task force led by the chair Frank Njenga toured the facility on Friday.
From the tour, the team established that the physical infrastructure at the largest mental facility in the country requires upgrading.
Nurses working at the facility who made their presentations to the task force painted a sorry state of the facility, from leaking roofs, cracked walls, poor drainage to lack of proper sanitation facilities.
“Thirteen per cent of the disease burden in Kenya consists of various mental illnesses. The national spending on mental illnesses is not commensurate with the disease burden,” Njenga spoke during the visit.
The level six referral hospital is expected to provide the highest degree of specialized care, but under-staffing and under-funding have left the facility in a wretched state, dealing a blow of mental healthcare in the country.
The hospital has a shortage of beds to accommodate patients, and does not have adequate qualified personnel to handle the number of patients seeking mental healthcare.
“These are some of the issues that the task force will be including in its final report that is expected to be submitted to the Cabinet Secretary for health by the end of this month when the task force will wide up its work,” Njenga said.
The situation has been compounded by the shortage of psychiatrists countrywide. The country needs 1,533 psychiatrists.
Of the 17 psychiatrists and 179 psychiatric nurses in public hospitals in Kenya, seven psychiatrists and 104 psychiatric nurses are deployed at Mathari.
The World Health Organisation recommends a ratio of one psychiatric nurse to six mentally ill patients.
In addition, the nurses said the drugs being used at the hospital are old varieties and are not effective.
“These drugs instead make the situation of the patients worse because the side effects are worse that the disease itself. This has led to low adherence to treatment, with some patients withdrawing completely from treatment,” a nurse told the task force.
Speaking on the same issue, Nominated Senator Sylivia Kasanga noted that the mental health facilities in the country need a transformation as a few institutions that exist such as Mathari have been run down and neglected.
“If you go to the county where we have a level four mental health facilities, it is a sham. In fact you should see the food they are fed; even animals are fed better,” the senator noted.
A report released by the office of the Auditor General in 2018 attributed the inadequate personnel at Mathari to the hospital’s inability to retain staff as compared to the private institutions that provide better pay and working conditions.
Statistics show that one in four Kenyans is affected with one form of mental illness or another.
“Mental health should not be separated from primary healthcare. The same way you wake up and go see your dentist or your gynaecologist should be the same you say you are going to see your psychiatrist.”
The task force donated bread and milk to the staff and patients in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.