500,000 Mental Patients In Turmoil After Mathari Closes Doors

  • Entrance to Mathari Hospital, Nairobi
    Entrance to Mathari Hospital, Nairobi
  • Mathari Hospital's decision to discharge mentally ill patients has placed the fate of about 500,000 patients in limbo after it halted its inpatient services and weekly clinic sessions after Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases escalated in Kenya.

    The hospital's decision was made in line with social-distancing, as they set out to reduce overcrowding at the facility.

    The families of the patients are in turmoil after a number of their people were discharged.

    File image of patients inside Mathari Hospital
    File image of patients inside Mathari Hospital

    With the lockdown imposed in Nairobi by President Uhuru Kenyatta, families outside Nairobi are struggling to acquire medical attention in their counties.

    "You can imagine staying with someone who is violent and hard to restrain under one roof with young children. Everyone is always tense and looking out lest she harms herself or the children. What is worse is that she cannot sleep," a Kayole, Nairobi resident lamented after his sister-in-law was discharged.

    The man claimed that on Tuesday, April 14, his efforts to return the sister-in-law to Mathari was countered by nurses at the facility who turned him away, insisting that they were under strict directives.

    "She was given some injection and medicine, which have not helped. She is still hyperactive. If she escapes during the curfew, will the police understand she is unwell?” the man wondered.

    Before the lockdown was initiated, another patient from Mandera County was also turned away with prescription drugs only.

    "How can serious cases requiring admission be sent away? And with the cancellation of the Tuesday clinic sessions, where will the about 200 patients who normally benefit go?" Dannish Odongo, a Mental Health Association member wondered. 

    The association is seeking to push the government to provide alternative health care to the patients, including having an emergency response team set up and a hotline for contacting nurses and acquiring drug prescriptions.

    “They should also provide psychological first aid and deliver drugs to patients at risk of immunosuppression, including the elderly, children with comorbidities that include seizures and epilepsy,” a member of the association proposed.

    On Thursday, April 17, the Ministry of Health responded to their query and set up a hotline number for emergencies. The numbers are 1199 for those who are in distress and need psychological support and 0721-336017 for consultancy.

    For several years, the Association of Mental Health Advocates has been urging the government to enhance medical care for mentally ill patients in various counties, a rallying call which has been hard to realise.

    A report by the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19 detailed that due to the changing lifestyle owing to Coronavirus (Covid-19) mental issues would be on the rise in the coming months.

    The report warned that physical isolation of families, breakdown of the community support and drastic decline in income generation are further likely to cause psychological and social challenges, adding to the burden of mental illness in the country.  On Tuesday, April 14, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi warned of an increase in domestic violence cases in the country after the government imposed a nationwide curfew. 

    "Fellow Kenyans cognisant of the measures we have taken in the fight against this disease, we are now witnessing a spike in domestic violence, gender-based violence and sexual offences. We want to remind anyone that the law has not been suspended and it will catch up with those who commit violence on others during this period," Mwangangi warned. 

    Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi addressing the media, April 2020.
    Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi addressing the media, April 2020.