Mental Health and Work: Government Embarks on Eradicating Problem Causes
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The Monitor (Kampala)
November 9, 2001
Posted to the web December 11, 2001
Hon. Brig. Jim K.Muhwezi
Message from the Minister of Health on the occasion of the World Mental Health day
Fellow citizens, today Nov 9, Uganda joins the rest of the world in observing the World Mental Health Day. This day, which was initiated by the World Federation for Mental Health and the World Health Organization ten years ago (1991), has been observed annually on the 10th October, by the rest of the world community.
On each occasion, the entire world focuses on mental health in general, in recognition of the enormous burden of mental and brain disorders posed on the individuals, families and society in general and also focuses on a topical area in mental health which is chosen for special attention.
It is also used to bring to the attention of everybody, the efforts being undertaken to provide knowledge about the causes, nature of the diseases, the promotion, prevention of mental/brain disorders, benefits of good mental health and the numerous intervention measures currently available for those with mental or brain disorders. Furthermore, this day and thereafter will be
used to draw the attention to the silent suffering experienced by those afflicted by them, be the individuals or families as a result of the conspiracy of silence, social discrimination and stigmatization which usually ends up with exclusion from enjoying their human rights.
You may recall that early this year, on April 7, again Uganda joined the entire world in marking the World Health Day, which was also devoted to mental health. In addition, the recently launched World Health Report in Geneva last month by the World Health Organization for the year 2001, exclusively dealt with the subject of mental health.
This is neither an accident nor a coincidence, it follows the disturbing revelations from the results of several studies currently available showing the changing trends as to the high contribution for the burden of disease by
mental health and brain disorders in any country and yet until recently, very little was being done to promote mental health and to prevent mental health/brain disorders.
In Uganda, we continue to experience the greatest burden of disease in the area of communicable disease. Preventable diseases like malaria, diaorrheal diseases, upper respiratory infections, complications in reproductive health continue to exert enormous burden of disease with high mortality rates. The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues, though, we are seeing signs of reduction in the new rates of infection.
As if that was not bad enough, the country has just managed to contain the Ebola, in which many Ugandans including health workers lost their lives. Banditry activities in some parts of the country have left some people with high emotional and psychological stresses.
It should thus be obvious to all of us, that despite the high burden of disease that we have from the communicable diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS, we also have a very high burden of mental illness in this country. In addition to the above-mentioned psychosocial stressful factors, data available also indicates that many of our people have the full spectrum of mental and brain
Many Ugandans suffer from diseases such as depression, epilepsy, schizophrenia, brain degenerative diseases and other nervous diseases including palsies, which may have been acquired during childbirth. Today, an increasing number of children are migrating to urban areas ending up as street children being involved in substance abuse of products like organic
solvents, smoking marijuana and drinking crude alcoholic beverages with grave health consequences.
As an indication of the magnitude of mental and brain illnesses, current estimates in this country indicate that one in every five Ugandan suffers from some form of mental illness.
However, those who suffer from the serious mental and brain disorders range between 1 - 2% of the population and these usually require long term family and institutional support, especially if not attended to early.
On the global level, mental and brain disorders account for 12.5% of the burden of disease but reliable and scientific projection indicate that mental health and related disorders will overtake communicable and other diseases of life style such as hypertension in the next two or so decades.
As mentioned above, in addition to focussing globally on all issues of mental health, a topical issue affecting a large population of the world is chosen and stressed. This year, the theme chosen is "Mental Health and Work" and is a continuation of last year's theme.
Fellow Countrymen , a health population, physically and mentally will result in high productivity and hence poverty reduction which is a key strategy for the NRM Government. The population deserves to be given knowledge about how to reduce stress in workplaces, the need for careful employer policies to protect workers' mental health and the importance of work opportunities for people who have experienced mental illnesses.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), mental illness affects more human resources and gives rise to greater waste of human resources than all other forms of disability.
The costs of mental illness in the workplace are enormous, untreated mental health illnesses result in greater absenteeism, lower productivity, increased workplace injury and sometimes disability claims. It is thus imperative for everybody to recognize that mental health is an important issue,' show commitment to mental health promotion not only for the good of
individuals and society but because it makes "good business sense".
Fellow Ugandans, in recognition of this enormous burden of disease due to mental and other brain disorders, the Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Health, has put in place a functional Mental Health Policy and Strategy whose guiding principles are:-
(i) Integration of issues related to mental health and the prevention substance
abuse in the National Health Sector Reforms agenda.
and (ii) Promotion of mental health and provision of health care in an integrated form. In this regard, mental health has been included as one of the minimum health care package to be delivered at all levels of our health care delivery system, targeting especially the vulnerable and high risk groups.
A structure to implement the program from the centre to the community and family levels has been formulated and is being put in place by government. It will also address, the psychosocial effects of disasters, conflict and epidemics, violence against women and gender responsive
mental health program.
At the centre, specialized services will continue to be offered and already both the National Referral Hospitals of Mulago and Butabika are under various stages of a major rehabilitation process so as to offer the expected expert services and other quality interventions.
Once again, fellow citizens, as we mark this year's World Mental Health Day with the focus of "Mental Health and Work", the time for reckoning is now. Let us look to this day and thereafter as an opportunity and a challenge. A day to reflect upon what remains to be done and how we can do it. Let us use this day and the period ahead to take stock and advocate for
positive policy change on the one hand and attitude changes on the other. Together, let us pledge to work towards a day when good health will also mean good mental health. Where discrimination and stigma no longer exists. Together we can make a difference.
For God and my country.
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