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Nakuru gears for regional psychiatric facility

The County Government of Nakuru will construct an ultra-modern psychiatric facility that will fully integrate mental health services in the devolved unit’s healthcare provision programs.

            Clinical Psychologist at the Nakuru Level 5 Teaching and Referral Hospital Dr. Cleophas Wafula, said the Sh40 million facility, touted as the first of its kind by a county government, will conduct screening and diagnosis for mental illness and will offer psychiatry and counseling services to patients.

            Speaking in his office at the Teaching and Referral Hospital, Dr. Wafula observed that currently, Gilgil General and Psychiatric Hospital, which serves as Nairobi’s Mathari Hospital annex, was the oldest and biggest psychiatric unit in Rift Valley region.

            “The Gilgil-based hospital is grappling with the rising number of abandoned psychiatric patients, some being there for over 30 years, thus straining the facility.

            “Already, a technical team from Nakuru County, has toured the Chiromo Mental Hospital to gather facts on a modern and ideal mental health facility. The team also met Dr. Frank Njenga, a renowned mental health consultant,” revealed the Clinical Psychologist.

            Wafula further revealed that the information gathered during the meeting would be critical in helping Nakuru come up with a modern mental infrastructure in Gilgil sub-County to offer quality, reliable and affordable mental health care services.

            The modern facility will also offer teaching and training facilities to psychiatry students from government medical training centres, public and private universities as well as private hospitals.

            “It will be the second fully-fledged psychiatric and mental health care facility in the country after Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital. We will do away with admission of mental health patients at Nakuru Level Five Hospital once the centre of excellence for mental health patients is completed,” stated Dr. Wafula.

            Kenyans within the Rift Valley counties of Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho, Samburu, Baringo, Nyandarua and Laikipia will access special rates for mental health treatment and psychiatric services while the rest of Kenyans will pay a subsidized price-the cheapest in the country.

            The Clinical Psychologist put the cost of treating mental illness at between Sh50,000 to Sh100,000 before factoring in on the doctors’ consultation fee of Sh10,000.

            The Mathari Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya’s known public mental health facility requires a down payment of Sh10,000 before admission, but one can get express admission if he/she has the NHIF card.

            “The cost of accessing treatment in private hospitals is very high owing to the fact that between Sh3,000 to Sh5,000 has to be paid per day every time a psychiatrist attends to a patient.

            We need to bring the cost down so that many people get the proper treatment. Kenyans who cannot afford to seek treatment, continue to suffer from the effects of mental illness. My team is committed to ensuring that proper mental health care is not a preserve for the rich in society,” he stated.

            According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated.

            In November 2019, the Cabinet approved a proposal to upgrade Gilgil Hospital to be a satellite of Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital.

            The move by the Cabinet paved the way for the hospital to secure grants from the national Treasury towards financing its operations and future expansion projects.

The mental section at Gilgil Hospital has been operating since 1965 and caters for 87 male and female patients. Some of the patients have been abandoned by their families and were transferred to the facility from Mathari.

            The County Executive Committee Member for Health, Dr. Zachary Kariuki Gichuki said under the new programme, the National government will hire staff and supply equipment at the Gilgil Mental Health Facility. Current staff, he said, will be redeployed to other health facilities within the county.

             “It is very expensive to treat mental disorders due to the high cost of drugs. We will be shutting down the Nakuru Level Five Hospital’s mental health unit, which is supposed to accommodate 21 patients, but has more than 70 patients.

            “Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital, which is a commonly known public facility, is overwhelmed by low income patients, thus there is a need for more public facilities to boost the private ones frequented by the middle income earners. Both the National and County governments need to allocate more funds in building public mental hospitals,” said Dr Gichuki.

            The Health CEC said that the county has posted a consultant psychiatrist and a nurse at the Gilgil Hospital to deal with the increasing mental health cases in the region. He revealed that the Centre for Excellence will have a rehabilitation unit for victims of drug abuse and related mental illnesses.

            The number of mental disorder cases has risen exponentially in Kenya with official data indicating that approximately 20-25 percent of outpatients seeking primary healthcare present symptoms of mental illness at any one time.

When the Ministry of Health launched the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030, it stated that one in every four Kenyans will suffer from a mental disorder in their lifetime.

by   Jane Ngugi

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