Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sadism alive and well in Colombo

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has written to President Mahinda Rajapakse highlighting what the organization called the blatant mistreatment and violation of basic human rights of psychiatric patients in the mental health wards in Colombo and elsewhere in Sri Lanka. In the letter, the human rights watchdog highlights several such violations as follows:
The AHRC says that patients are systematically given shock treatment (Electro-convulsive Therapy -- ECT) as it is cheaper than giving them antipsychotic drugs. Whenever psychiatrists are asked what they want from overseas the response is "a new ECT machine". It is said that this treatment settles the patients for about 3-4 days and then they are back to being shocked.
Patients are beaten when perceived as unmanageable. Patients are also tied to their beds or wall hooks when seen as difficult to manage. Food that is given by visitors is taken away. Patients walk around with a 1/4 loaf of bread in their hands as their evening meal when the government provides adequate money for a better meal.
The AHRC also says that items given like sewing machines for occupational therapy are used by staff to run their own small businesses from the ward for instance patch work, quilt making. Meanwhile patients remain unoccupied, and their behaviour is not managed, and then they are subjected to inhuman restrictive practices.
Food that is provided by the family on a day out is taken away by staff. Any meat is confiscated and plain buns are given instead as the staff say that the meat will not agree with the patients. But observers have noticed that the meat is not thrown away but taken away by staff in bags.
Then, soap and basics provided to maintain hygiene are taken away by staff and pieces of inexpensive soap like Sunlight is provided instead which reacts badly with the skin of the patients giving rise to added problems. These things are actually happening within these wards and the information is reported by credible NGO staff, mental health professionals and support persons.
What is worse is these atrocities are happening to an extremely vulnerable section of the community who cannot advocate for themselves. All they can do is plead with their relatives to remove them from the wards. However they are not believed and considered delusional by their families. Also the families are afraid to remove them as they are not sure how to handle the patient at home.
What becomes clear from this information is that the psychiatrists, nurses and attendants are abusing these patients and obviously see this group as anything but human. On several occasions mental health organisations have taken up these issues but the results have been negative. What happens in the end is that the staff of such organisations are prevented from visiting the wards and hence are unable to monitor the situation or act as a deterrent against this behaviour.
As a result the organisations stopped pursuing legal action in order that they would be able to continue visiting the wards. However, sadly they believe that there is much that happens when they are not around.
The situation of the treatment of psychiatric patients needs to be urgently investigated and the practices that prevail at the moment need to be prevented immediately. The AHRC has thus urged that appropriate action be taken on this matter as an urgent priority.


Anonymous said...

It is pretty sad!! But there is always reasons deeper than what meets the eye. The fact that certain procedures are cheaper depends on budgets. If budgets for this is to be increased then it has to come out of some other form social benefit. It is hard for a poor country to fun all its social programs effectively. Then there is the element of war. A lot of dolalrs are spent on a meaningless, stupid conflict. But then again can the government stop funding the war? It is also sad to imagine the staff

Sam said...

Great Post!
This is something most of us refuse to pay attention to. We talk about war and things – things we can not fix easily. But we have much more humanitarian crises in Sri Lanka that we can sort out real fast. Why we all focus on impossible things and ignore simple things we can fix simply? May be we all crazy too.

al juhara said...

thanks for the comments. I posted this because reading this really affected me badly. I could just visualise them in my minds eye, shuffling sadly around with half gnawed loaves of bread, like something out of "One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest" or a Stephen King horror novel.
Is THIS how our majority Buddhist State works, I wonder? and is there anything we can do about this,personally?

Ashi said...

Actually, ECT isn't as horrible as shown in movies, although I was "shocked" by the thought at first. The patient is anaesthetised, and given a muscle relaxant (so that there is no convulsive thrashing around). It is specially used when urgent response is needed like in severe depression and psychosis following pregnancy and also for elderly patients who cannot tolerate the side effects of drugs. The treatment has to be given every 3-4 days for 6-12 cycles for it to be effective and anti depressants or anti psychotics are started at the end of the cycles to prevent a relapse.

I don't know to comment about the flicking of food and sewing machines by the staff though... but I do agree that the Govt. can provide a better alternative to 1/4 loaf of bread... but all hospital food sucks, even in the paying wards. anyway, I will be there in a couple of weeks time (alas for my loved ones, not for personal treatment) and will scope the place out.

Meanwhile, do keep writing... I love your posts!!