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Nigeria habours 21 million ‘kolos’

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The Medical Director, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital (FNH), Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Rahman Lawal has stated that about 12.5 per cent of Nigerians, which is about 21.2 million citizens in the country have one form of psychiatric disorder or another.
And according to him, there is the need for more psychiatrists, health workers and health facilities, so that authorities will be able to cope with treatment and management of psychiatric issues in Nigeria.
Lawal who spoke with This Day stated that previously there were only three neuropsychiatric hospitals in Nigeria, but today there are have eight, adding, that it’s now up to the state governments to set up neuropsychiatric hospitals in their various states.
“I know some of these states have, but they are very few. If every state set up neuropsychiatric hospitals then the burden of patients not being able to access treatment promptly will reduce drastically.
“For the state governments that can’t establish any, they can have a neuropsychiatric department in their various general hospitals or health centres and then provide specialists to manage the department. Because there is no way the few psychiatric hospitals we have in the country can cater for the entire population. That is why we must bring treatment closer to the people”, he said.
He also lamented that the number of qualified psychiatrists every year is increasing, and that given the population of persons in Nigerians who need psychiatric attention, it is worrisome that there are only few neuropsychiatric hospitals and trained psychiatrists in the country making it difficult to meet the medical needs of the people.
According to him, “To have psychiatric illness in our country is to carry a stigma. Such a person will likely not have enough to maintain himself in terms of treatment, because majority of these patients are unemployed, or some may have lost their jobs, because of the ailment, some may have been deserted by loved ones.
“Even the ones employed may have low earning power. So, like in any other parts of the world, Nigeria has also subsidized treatment for psychiatric patients so that the poor can as well benefit from quality treatment”.
Dr. Lawal also noted, that “One of the major challenges we are having is that a lot of our trained psychiatrists are practising outside the country. If we have a lot of them in the country, we wouldn’t say our personnel are not enough. They are out in search for greener pasture in countries where they are paid more.
“In as much as government is doing enough, I will advise that the profession should be made more attractive in terms of remuneration so that we won’t continuously have issues of brain drain. At present, we only have about 150 practicing psychiatrists in the country which is grossly inadequate”.
“He continued, that “There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding psychiatric illness in Africa, especially in Nigeria. There are people who refuse to visit the hospital or bring their sick ones for treatment, because they believe psychiatric illness is a spiritual issue.
“Hence, they would prefer to take such patients to spiritual healing homes or faith organisations so as to get cure through spiritual means. Majority only take neuropsychiatric hospitals as their last resort. And you know when cases are not presented on time, they are often more difficult to treat.
“This is one of the reasons people don’t present their cases to the hospital, thereby preventing such persons from getting proper medical attention. So, what I do is that when I come across such persons, I tell them to bring their sick loved ones to the hospital whilst educating them that there are drugs for the treatment of the illnesses.
“People should understand that psychiatric illness is also like other illnesses which require medical attention. And now we have good drugs just like the ones in developed countries”.

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