Njange Maina @NjangeWaEunice
A visit to Mathari hospital, the only public referral psychiatric facility in Kenya, depicts a picture of a neglected, yet crucial mental health care facility.
Mathari Mental Hospital is the biggest public healthcare facility for mental disorders in Kenya. At the entrance of the hospital, one is greeted by an old faded billboard whose graphics have been battered by extreme weather.
The architecture has colonial overtones. In particular, one wooden house that stands in the middle of the compound is surrounded by unattended lawns and old trees.
Some of the buildings are over a century old as they were built in 1910 when the facility was established.
Even with insufficient facilities, the number of admissions at the mental hospital is increasing day by day. “Yesterday, we admitted 10 male and four female patients with different mental disorders,” says Dr Mercy Karanja, the acting deputy superintendent. The hospital has a bed capacity of 700 patients, but admissions go to even 1,000 patients. On average, over 100 patients go without beds.
Currently, there are 437 civil patients and 200 forensic patients admitted. Civil patients are the ones brought by family and relatives while forensic patients are brought in by police officers as they are victims, suspects of witnesses to on-going crime investigations or court proceedings.
At ward nine that hosts male patients, the current bed occupancy is 75 against the bed capacity of 48. The 27 patients without beds either sleep on the floor or share beds with other patients.
In ward nine, one of the sleeping cubicles has at least two beds without mattresses. The nurse in charge of the ward says that the foam mattresses allocated to the beds were torn by the patients.
Dr Karanja who is also a psychiatrist at the hospital says that severe cases of mental sickness at the hospital admission are regular. “Several times, we receive patients with severe delusion. Such patients don’t actually believe they are sick and even try to remove some of their body parts,” says Dr Karanja.
The male patients exceed their female counterparts, with the former taking about 60 per cent and the latter 40 percent.
On average, one nurse takes care of 50 patients against the recommended ration of one nurse for six patients.Admission of patients between 18 to 35 years has also been increasing steadily. Most of those youths are recovering from drug abuse.
Japheth Livondo, a nurse at the hospital says that frustrated youths are finding solace in drug abuse and end up at the facility.
“I once got close with a recovering youth who narrated to me his journey to drugs. Out of frustration from job hunt, the young man got hooked to weed,” says Livondo.