A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) into mental health has urged government to move mental health onto the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to enable such patients to access adequate care. It says free drugs for patients under the mental health programme are generally unavailable at the health centres, and therefore burden patients to pay for them. Mr Suonyir Moses Dari, president of Tiborataa Mental Health Association (TIMHA) based at Poyetanga in the Wa West District of Upper West Region, said free drugs under mental health is only in name and not in reality. He asked: “How free is the free when the free is not there?”
“You don’t declare something free when it cannot be accessed. The drugs are there in the system, but they are not available at the various health centres or the regions for the mental health professionals to use to treat mental health patients,” he said.He said the free medication policy under the mental health programme is rendered useless when patients were invariably required to pay for their medication from the open market. At a skills development forum for members of TIMHA and stakeholder sensitization workshop at Poyetanga, Mr Dari called on government to consider mental health a priority in the wake of the alarming statistics on mental health.
According to the Ghana Health Service, one in every four persons in Ghana could be suffering from a mental health condition, with 40 per cent of all patients who visit the hospital said to be mentally ill. Indeed, mental health comprises conditions that affect the brain, including psychosis, depression and epilepsy.
Mr Dari, who is also the mental health officer for Wa West District, said it was painful that mental health appeared to have been pushed to the fringes by policymakers. “The policymakers don’t place much premium on mental health. If they did, we should have these drugs from the national level to the districts and communities,” he said.
Mr Dari said he started the TIMHA to mitigate the stigmatisation that mental health patients endured from the public, which sometimes included their own families. The Association now provides education and skill training for its 250 members and their families and caregivers to rehabilitate them for reintegration into society. The forum was also attended by traditional rulers and stakeholders in the public sector.
Mr Rashid Tindogo, Wa West District manager of the NHIS, backed the call to place mental health under the NHIS, saying funding for the programme had proven to be a challenge. “The NHIS medicines list does not contain medicines for mental cases because they are said to be programme medications that are supposed to be released free of charge by central government to the health facilities,” he explained.
“Unfortunately, we know the kind of problems with some of those programmes; their medicines are not available, and they are quite expensive, so it would be very good if the NHIS is expanded and these medicines included under the scheme,” he added. Funding for the NHIS has become an issue recently, with service providers said to be owed huge sums accumulated over nearly two years. “If it is on the NHIS list, it means that the NHIS will be paying for those medications, so the health facilities would not have any excuse not to stock those medicines. Currently, the case is that they go to central medical stores and because those medicines are free they don’t stock them because they have limited resources,” he said.