The Belgian minister for development co-operation, Jean-Pascal Labille, has visited Ndera Neuro-psychiatric Hospital to assess his government’s contribution to national efforts to boost mental health facilities.
He described as “remarkable,” government efforts in dealing with mental problems to ensure a healthy population. The minister noted that is important to understand that a healthy population is critical in any country’s economic development.
“Globally, one in every four people suffers from mental ailments. In Europe, there is a new trend linked to stress,” Labille said, adding that he was impressed by the effectiveness displayed by the country in improving mental health facilities despite challenges faced after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“The synergies between different partners including us, NGOs, the government (of Rwanda), and others help this hospital to do better and it is important to capitalise on these synergies,” he said.
The 351-bed hospital was founded in 1968 by the Belgian Congregation of the Brothers of Charity. It receives support from the Belgian government and NGOs such as Caraes run by the founders; Medics without Vacation, another Belgian NGO that sends in experts every year, as well as Union Chimique Belge (UCB), a multinational biopharmaceutical manufacturing company based in Brussels that sends medicines regularly.
Enforsa Rwanda Ltd, a subsidiary of a Belgian company active in international green and renewable energy sector, recently installed a solar power plant expected to produce 0.5MW of electricity to serve the hospital.
There has been a rise in cases of mental illness in the country as a direct consequence of the Genocide. In response, the government and development partners prioritised measures to contain the situation. Since 2002, the Belgian Development Agency (BTC) supports mental health sector through a Rwanda-Belgium bilateral co-operation arrangement. The assistance includes training of 158 general practitioners and 98 nurses, to manage common mental disorders.
At the grassroots, 778 nurses and 12,000 community health workers have also been trained.
Last year, a postgraduate programme specialising in psychiatry commenced at the University of Rwanda.
Prudence Uwabakurikiza, the BTC press officer, told The New Times that in the 2011-2014 cooperation framework, Belgium pledged to support the health sector to the tune of 55 million Euros.
“There is an institutional support programme that is funded to the tune of about 12 million Euros. From this money, a big chunk goes to mental health care. The Belgian government is the biggest supporter of mental health care in Rwanda,” he said.
Charles Nkubili, the director of the hospital, said despite the achievements, the hospital still faces some challenges, including infrastructure. “There are social cases of illnesses and then there are many patients who don’t have health insurance. But when they arrive here, we are simply compelled to treat them for free,” he said.
Rose G. Nyirabashyitsi, a senior mental health nurse, said the situation of mental illness is generally improving due to increased public awareness.
Nyirabashyitsi cited conflict in the family settings and drug abuse as the major causes of new cases in addition to hereditary illness.
“The environment in which a child is brought up is important. A child who grows up seeing his or her parents fighting constantly will be disturbed. Right now, we have six children while last week they were 12. The conflicts in families are affecting children in a negative way,” she said.
Figures indicate that most diagnosis results point to schizophrenia, schizotypic disorders and delirious disorders (58.81%); mood disorders (22.69%); mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use (4.74%); and other mental disorders (5.46%).
Dr Anita Asiimwe, the state minister for health, said that the government values the Rwanda-Belgium partnership, particularly in mental health care. “With support from your government, there is a lot that we have managed to achieve. Over the years, we have successfully continued to decentralize health care services. We have a nurse or two to cater for mental health patients in district hospitals,” she said.