Popular Psychiatrist and current President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN) as well as Editorial Adviser to www.africavoiceshq.com, Professor Taiwo Obindo revealed in an exclusive interview with the News Agency of Nigeria that about sixty (60) million Nigerians suffer from mental illness.
Prof. Obindo, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos and Chairman, Faculty of Psychiatry West African College of Physicians Nigeria Chapter revealed this to the public on Sunday, September 11 in Abuja to journalists.
As reported by Premium Times, he said:
“Mental healthcare is in a sorry state given that we have more than 60 million Nigerians suffering from various mental illnesses and the fact that only about 10 per cent of them were able to access appropriate care.
“We are left with more than 90 per cent who are unable to access care and this group is called the treatment gap for mental illnesses,’’ Prof Obindo said.
He said the gap was as a result of various factors like the knowledge gap in which people do not have appropriate information about the causes and treatment for mental illnesses.
Prof Obindo said some factors hindering the management of mental illness in Nigeria included myths and traditional beliefs; inadequate mental health facilities and a number of mental health professionals.
According to him, the few available mental health facilities were located in the city centres.
“Knowing that 60 per cent of Nigerians live in the rural areas, they do not have access to appropriate care and have to travel long distances to access facilities,” Prof Obindo said.
He also said that the number of mental health practitioners was low as it fell below the ratio recommended by the World Health Organization.
According to him, the few that were trained were often eager to leave the country.
“The environment in which we practice, the security situation and the remuneration that people were given in the country tend to push them out.
“And then, of course, the pull factor from the developed countries where they tend to poach on the already trained medical practitioners in the country, particularly the psychiatrists,” he said.
Prof Obindo said that the cost of hiring practitioners in low medium income countries was low; so ”it was easier for developed countries to poach the already made products rather than training such professionals locally.”
He said there was a need for Nigeria to implement its Mental Health Policy on the practice of psychiatry.
Prof Obindo added that although the document was last reviewed in 2013, it was not being implemented.
He said one major component of the policy was the integration of mental health into primary healthcare, which was yet to be achieved after nine years.
The psychiatrist added that the law operating in the country was the “lunacy act”, which was first enacted in 1916 and reviewed in 1958.
”The Mental Health Bill by the mental health stakeholders led by the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria (APN), in conjunction with the National Assembly and the Ministry of Health was yet to be assented to by the President.
“This is the most recent effort in 30 years,” he said.
This is alarming when you carefully consider the fact that based on the 2006 census, the entire population of Nigeria is slightly above 200 million which means that if these figures from the renowned psychiatrist are true, close to a quarter of the population is bogged down by a mental illness.
This is more worrisome in a country where there is no efficient universal healthcare coverage for its citizens especially the vulnerable. Psychiatric patients pay through their nose to purchase their medications and the fate of the in patients is worse as the cost of being kept even in a government psychiatric facility is rather prohibitive especially to the common man which explains why the masses run to religious charlatans for medical help.
This figure is higher than the 25 million that the Federal House of Representatives put as the total number of the mentally challenged in the supposed ‘Giant of Africa’ which sadly due to bad leadership has mere feet of clay.
I have campaigned vigorously in an earlier article for President Muhammdu Buhari to sign the mental health bill into law which promises to greatly reform the beleaguered sector as it is a gargantuan shame that over six decades after political independence from Great Britain, we are still stuck with relics of colonial laws on mental health which aren’t autochthonous.
Based on this frightening statistics which has seen the sharp spike in the cases of suicide in the hitherto ‘Most Happy Nation on earth’, I make a passionate plea to President Buhari who has less than a year left in office to sign the mental health bill which has already been passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly into law so that we would no longer be the laughing stock in the international community as smaller countries like South Africa and Ghana have reformed their mental health systems with progressive laws having done away with the vestiges of the legislations by their former colonial overlords.
President Buhari history beckons on you; please do the needful and save this great nation from monumental disaster as a healthy nation is a wealthy one.