The Vice President of the Liberia chapter of the West African College of Physicians (WACP), Rose Jallah Macauley (MD), backed by other colleagues have declared that mental illness has become an unrecognized health emergency that must claim the attention of the people.
Speaking during the First Annual General & Scientific Meeting of the Liberia WACP chapter, and the 10th Joseph N. Togba Lecture series on June 23, Dr. Macauley said there are increasing numbers of mentally ill people in the country, who are given different names but less attention.
She identified some of the causes of mental health as trauma inherited from the Ebola crisis, drug abuse and genetics. Although she said she has not personally conducted a research on the causes of mental health, she said there is a possibility that some inherited it from the family line.
Also, “A lot of the young people in our society are abusing drugs. They are taking in these unsolicited drugs – drugs that are not prescribed are what they are taking, and it is messing their brains up,” Dr. Macauley said.
The proliferation of drug dens, locally referred to as ghettos, has increased over the years, so much so that young people and the elderly, in rare cases, usually assemble there to partake in harmful substances. The Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) has recorded hundreds of arrests of both imported drugs and homegrown narcotic substances.
Last year the Liberia National Police (LNP) clamped down on drug abusers at the commercial district of Red Light and destroyed the popular Turtle Base where criminals under the influence of drugs were hosted.
The Special Presidential Task Force headed by General Services Agency (GSA) director Mary Broh also arrested over 20 people in Sinkor last year for drug abuse, and razed ghettos to the ground.
Among those arrested was a woman who admitted to mixing narcotics substance with ‘Kanyan,’ a popular snack prepared with dried, grated cassava, parched peanuts, and sugar.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Liberia is estimated to have over 400,000 people with some form of mental disorder and about 130,000 people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In this grave situation, Dr. Macauley said as medical people they are in the vanguard of creating awareness on the danger of drug abuse so people will not take in harmful drugs.
She pointed out the lack of rehabilitation centers for drug abusers and mentally ill people as a condition adding to the existing situation. However, she said there is a need to reach out to drug abusers to caution them on the negative consequences of drug abuse so that they can kick the habit.
Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, performing the official opening of the lecture series, described the occasion as a historical milestone and commended the organizers and WACP for the topic on mental health.
Dr. Kateh said it was very interesting to the Ministry of Health to have a discussion on mental health because of its overwhelming cases.
Also, a representative of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists, Hasipha C.
Tarpeh, said: “Research has proven that mental health is a health concern in Liberia as evidenced by the increasing number of cases, needless to overemphasize the emergency nature of the current situation.”
He said the fight against this health problem requires joint efforts, with the support of potential partners and well-wishers alike.
The Joseph N. Togba Memorial Lecture series is an annual event organized by the Liberia chapter of the WACP. It has been in existence for the past nine years, and it is aimed at bringing medical doctors and physicians together to discuss health issues, and to celebrate Liberia’s deceased medical doctor Joseph N. Togba for his numerous contributions to the medical profession and health system in Liberia.
The WACP’s first annual general and scientific meeting, and the 10th J.N. Togba Lecture Series, on June 23 saw the honoring of two distinguished medical practitioners, Roseda E. Marshall and Sunny Chinenye. The two doctors are said to have performed excellently over the years in acquiring education and transforming their education into services for the welfare of their people.
Dr. Marshall, a pediatric, said in remarks that recognition of her work in Liberia by her fellow colleagues brought her great delight, which encourages her not to relent.