Sunday, April 22, 2012


By: Kwamina Bamfo-Agyei

Sod Cutting of the Toilet facility project at Duakor
In Ghana, only 13% of the populace has access to improved toilets. This does not include those who share their toilets with their friends and neighbours or use public toilets.
 In the toilet world ‘’Chop time no friend’’ is strictly applied to the letter and the best slogan is ‘one man one seat-one family one toilet’.
When it comes to the figures quoted above, one will always have to ask the multi-million cedi question “So where do the huge 87% of Ghanaians attend nature’s call?’’. Well the answer is not far fetched. They do it in the gutters, open spaces, behind houses and properties, on refuse dumps, at our beautiful beaches, river bodies and so on.
It is in light of this sanitation challenges confronting the residents of Duakor in the Cape Coast Metropolis that Global Host Project, an NGO, has cut the sod for the construction of a 10-seater toilet facility worth GH¢ 23,328.70. The public toilet facility is intended to improve sanitation at the area and along the beach since due to lack of toilet facility they resort to defecate at the beach.
Odua Kwesi Sampson (Country Director)
The Country Director of Global Host Project, Odua Kwesi Sampson, disclosed plans were far advanced to build identical toilet facilities  in Ahenborboi, Okyeso and Abakam.
Mr Sampson said his outfit would donate computers to basic schools that serve the communities of Duakor Ahenborboi, Okyese and Abakam, and was happy that the community has provided electricity to the school at Duakor. He said that St Monica’s Girls School in Cape Coast would also be provided with some computers.
He revealed that  a volunteer would be arriving from the USA in June to install and repair computers at the Junior High Schools in the area and that.

 The Global Host Project was founded in 2008 with the aim of promoting developmental projects by constructing useful social amenities to communities where they operate.
 Donation from philanthropists go towards charitable causes such as scholarships for the brilliant but needy students or feeding costs for children in  orphanages, as well as building repairs for orphanages, schools and hospitals.
In addition, there is a strong need for the following items in Ghana. If any philanthropist has any of these items to donate, Global Host Project  would be deeply grateful–and, can receive a tax deduction for it as well.
  1. Computers for schools
  2. School supplies (books, pens, pencils, paper, etc).
  3. Clothing, toys, footballs, used bicycles etc for children at orphanages.
  4. Medical supplies for outreach programs in rural communities such as condoms for STD prevention and birth control, wheel chairs for the disabled, etc.

He however appealed to other institution to donate to the project by visiting the website www. or call 0542519233 or 0287996063.
Construction of the Toilet Facility
The chief of the area, Togbe Ayivi II, commended both the assembly member and the Global Host Project for their efforts at providing the community with a toilet facility, saying that, the lack of such facilities had resulted in needless deaths.

He pledged to give the project the needed support to ensure it was completed on schedule, whilst he called on other NGOs to come to the aid of the community
The Director of Environmental Health and Sanitation,  Demedeme Naa Lenason  was quoted to have said “the 2000 census revealed that 31.45 per cent households in Ghana used public latrines as compared to 8.5 per cent using water closet; 22 per cent used pit latrine, 6.9 per cent used KVIP, four per cent used bucket or pan latrine and 6.9 per cent attend to nature's call in other people's houses”.

Across Africa, about 62 per cent of the people do not have access to an improved toilet, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation reported.

Though having a clean accessible toilet is also central to the human rights and personal dignity of every woman, man and child, 2.6 billion people - half the developing world - lack a simple "improved" latrine.
The WHO and UNICEF estimate that 1.2 billion people worldwide gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2004, while about 980 million children had no toilets facilities.

If current trends continue, there will still be 2.4 billion people without basic sanitation in 2015, which is the target year for halving the number of people without access to sanitation and safe drinking water. The main problem will be that the children among them will continue to pay the price in lost lives, missed schooling, in disease, malnutrition and poverty.
As for Sub-Saharan Africa, it has been predicted that not until 2076 can the MDG goals be met, which is, about 61 years later than the target. Therefore, this means a child somewhere today may have to wait for at least 68 years before being able to use a proper toilet.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Oil is driving more than just cars in the Mfantseman Municipal District. It is driving a new wave of training and investment opportunities.
Home to the first oil rig in Ghana, Mfantseman does not yet have the technological capacity for commercially viable production. Currently producing about 500 barrels a day, Municipal Chief Executive Kweku Hayfron said recent seismic assessments revealed greater oil potential off Saltpond’s shores – should the government, which owns the rig, Ghana’s first, invest in the right type of technologies.
While such investment is not yet a priority for governments at any level, as world oil supplies dwindle, it could become more feasible.
The greater oil production potential off Saltpond, along with the discovery of vast oil deposits in the Western Region, has Hon. Hayfron excited about the potential for growth and investment in his district for the benefit of all its residents.
At the heart of all his plans is a desire to encourage young people to undertake training – particularly in sectors that support big oil, such as fabrication, tourism and hospitality, supplies and, even, housing – so that Mfantseman can capitalise on the opportunities presented by Ghana’s fledgling oil business.

Already, the municipality takes advantage of Ghana’s reputation for educational quality among West African nations, with students from the Niger Delta in Nigeria coming to Briwa Vocational Training Centre for nine months to learn the skills necessary to support the oil industry in Nigeria.
One of the graduating students told CENTRAL PRESS it was important Ghana trained its own people to capitalise on the oil industry. Part of the reason for the troubles with kidnapping and piracy off Nigeria’s coast, he said, was that the Nigerian government failed to listen to the people when they begged for a greater share of oil profits to stay in the country. This, the student said, was why some Nigerians took matters into their own hands and became pirates. Had the Nigerian government invested in training so that average Nigerians, rather than just big oil multinationals, could also benefit from the oil there, things may have been different, he said.
As far as training local young people in oil industry-related skills, Hon. Hayfron said: “The intake of people is not that high. In terms of training for the oil business, as we speak, we do not have any [schools or courses in oil].”
However, the Management, Development and Productivity Institute (MDPI) encourage the sponsorship of students to learn such skills.
“We have been encouraging young people to undertake training. We have four or five who are going to the Maritime Academy to get oil-related courses,” Hon. Hayfron said.
“Because the oil industry is new, it will take some time.”
One of the big challenges to the district, and nationally, he said, was making young people understand the benefit of training.
It is a sentiment Hon. Hayfron, who estimated the difference in daily pay was 10 cedis for labourers and 40 cedis for skilled trades people, agreed with.
He said the new Rural Technology Facility, commissioned in December last year in the district, was an example of the efforts his administration was making to invest in its young people.
“Once we train people, industry can grow,” Hon. Hayfron said.
“A lot of our youth do not have anything to do.”
This was “creating a big problem” nationally, and something his administration was trying to combat locally.
Hon. Hayfron said another of the ways the municipality was looking capitalise on the new oil industry was tourism.
Already, he said, the district had “several great resorts” at which those working on the big rigs in the Western Region could take their holidays and spend their tourism cedis locally.
“We also want to encourage investors to put up more hotels,” he said.

ANOMABU - Fort William

A lack of advertising for the smaller coastal forts could be costing the Central Region serious cedis.
As well as attracting more tourism cedis to the fishing communities that buttress them, better promotion of smaller historic forts, like Fort William in Anomabo, could also reduce the funding burden on government for maintaining these historic sites.
Fort William curator Philip Atta-Yawson, nicknamed “The Professor” by academics who consult him for his vast knowledge of the history of slavery, said a great opportunity was being missed.
The reason: a failure to adequately promote and advertise the smaller forts in the region.
Last year, Fort William, Anomabo, not far from the larger, more popular Cape Coast and Elimina castles, had 54 people sign its visitors’ book, seven of whom were Ghanaian.

When Central Press visited at the end of February, 13 people had signed the same book so far this year.
Cape Coast Castle, meanwhile, had an estimated 64,000 visitors last year. 64,000 visitors who could have made the short journey from Cape Coast to Anomabo and Fort William if they had known about it through better advertising, especially, The Professor said, on the internet.
“I have all the information” necessary for a concerted campaign advertising Fort William, he said.
While it is highly likely far more people passed through Fort William’s doors than the 54 who signed its visitors’ book last year, The Professor said with the help of concerted advertising, that number could be far greater.
As things stand, The Professor said most visitors to the fort are Ghanaians from Accra and Kumasi in the village at weekends for festivals, funerals and similar events.
“Most tours happened at weekends, when there is a fun ride, people come from all over,” he said.
He said the reactions he gets from Ghanaian visitors were interesting and proved how valuable a Fort William tour could be in educating people about the history of the former British Gold Coast.
Visitors from the Ashanti Region, whose forebears of the Ashanti Empire were involved in the supply-side of the slave trade, often reacted with the most surprise.
“They react in amazement to such big, big structures on the coast,” he said.
The advent of foreign visitors to Fort William was a relatively new phenomenon and still, they accounted for “not too much a year” of the overall number, according to The Professor.
As more and more foreign visitors come to Ghana, inspired partly from US President Barack Obama’s first official international visit to Ghana in 2009, and the growing popularity, particularly among African Americans and Afro-Caribbean people wanting to see where their forefathers came from and what they had to endure as part of the slave trade, the fact so few of them visit Fort William is a shame.
In addition, more visitors means more money: more money for the Ghana Museum And Moment Authority that maintains these sites.
Perhaps most importantly, more visitors means more people spending money on ancillary services provided by local communities for things like food, drinks and accommodation.
The huge discrepancy in visitor numbers to Fort William by comparison to Cape Coast Castle is understandable. The latter is far bigger; it played a more prominent role during the colonial era than Fort William and as such is better resourced and equipped for tours.
However, a tour of Fort William, guided by the charismatic and very knowledgeable Professor is an educational and, despite the harrowing subject matter, entertaining experience
The Professor said he often thought a concerted effort by tourism authorities to advertise these sites to attract both domestic and international visitors would be a good idea. Its close proximity to both Elimina and Cape Coast castles meant it could benefit from a packaged tour that encompassed visits to all three sites in one day.

Built by the Dutch in 1640. Captured by the Swedes in the early 1650s. Captured by the Danes under Sir Henry Carlof, in 1657. Recaptured by the Dutch in 1660. Capitulated to the Dutch under De Ruyter in 1665. Rebuilt by the English as Fort Charles in 1679. Occupied by the Anomabus, in 1701. Abandoned by the English in 1730. Present fort built by the British, in 1753-56. Bombarded by French in 1794. Attacked by the Anomabus in 1801. Attacked by Ashantis on 15th June 1806. Purchased by the English in 1872. Restored in 1954.


Four Projects Abroad volunteers dug deep to bring food, comfort and a little bit of entertainment to schoolchildren at Egyirlkrom Refugee Camp, near Elmina.
Their visit was organised by Covenant Daycare Centre (CDC) head teacher Margaret Ackonu.
Mrs Ackonu said she had been visiting the camp and trying to find ways to help those living there, having first fled and now facing exile from their homes in Cote d’Ivoire.
The visit on Friday, March 16, was the first of what she said she hoped would be many by her school. As an individual, she was also due to help by giving a motivational talk to raise the spirits of the women in the camps the week after the school visit.
Mrs Ackonu said the school visits were designed as a sort of language exchange so that the CDC children could learn some French and the refugee children could practise their English – something very valuable to these children who in all likelihood will come to call Ghana their home.
For the Ivorian schoolchildren, the visit was met with a great deal of fanfare. As the CDC bus pulled in, older schoolchildren lined both sides of the road, applauding their Cape Coast visitors in welcome. Then, the more musical pupils among them played drums. The CDC children danced to these beats as they made their way to the end of the camp school building and the younger pupils’ classrooms.
The CDC pupils were split into two age groups and joined their peers inside the camp for lessons that included singing in both French and English, and making figures out of playing putty.
Joining CDC volunteers Maria Jorgensen and Stine Lunde, from Norway, and Bonnie Schoovers and Pauline Grobben, from The Netherlands, to report on the visit for Central Press, I was struck by how well the two groups of children played together.
My first time in a refugee camp, I was also impressed by how clean and well spaced out it was, enabling its inhabitants to preserve the dignity all human beings should despite the troubles they have faced.
It was heartening to see the language barriers between the Ivorian and Ghanaian children fall by the wayside as they played and learned together, proving, I think, that in any context, children are just children, who want to play and be loved no matter what hardships they have endured.
The visit also proved very exciting for both groups of children, providing a novel break in their daily school routines.
Mrs Ackonu said she hoped to make return visits as often as possible, but that depended on funding.
Next time, Mrs Acknonu said she would like to bring the Ivorian children to her daycare centre, near Solace Junction in Cape Coast, so they could enjoy time away from the refugee camp. This would require about 200 cedis to hire a bus for schoolchildren and their teachers and about another 200 cedis to buy a cook them food. She said she would be grateful to anyone willing and able to donate funds for this cause.
Ms Jorgensen, Ms Lunde, Ms Schoovers and Ms Grobben each donated 60 cedis for the visit to buy and cook enough rice and chicken to feed 300 of the refugee schoolchildren.
It was a price, they all said, they were willing to pay.
Speaking on behalf of the four volunteers, Ms Schoovers said: “It very interesting to see what a refugee camp actually looked like.”
Nevertheless, she said she was shocked and somewhat saddened by the way the refugee children grabbed at the food they had brought.
“Perhaps they don’t get these kinds of meals very often, which is very sad,” she said.
On a positive note, she said, it was nice to see the two groups of children interacting so well together.


Scores of people took to the streets in Cape Coast last month  to celebrate the dawn of a new era in mental health care and understanding in Ghana.
The long-awaited Mental Health Bill finally passed parliament on March 6. Its passage came several days earlier than expected, eliciting shouts, in a joyful abandonment of House protocol, from those lobbyists present to hear Michael Quay make the announcement.
First introduced to parliament in 2004, the Ghana Health Service originally expected the Mental Health Bill to become law by 2006. The wild applause was a natural response for the health, legal and human rights workers who had been lobbying, negotiating and agitating for it for more than eight years.
Even Ghana Health Service’s chief psychiatrist Akwasi Osei was said to “pop champagne” when he heard the announcement.
“It is my expectation that five years from now there will be no mad persons roaming the streets of the country, since they will be effectively treated and integrated into society,” Dr Osei told the Daily Graphic.
It was a sentiment shared by Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital Medical Director Kwaw Armah-Arloo.
As one of only 13 qualified psychiatrists practising in Ghana and the head of one of the three psychiatric hospitals, Dr Armah-Arloo has been a central figure in shaping the legislation. And, he said, were he present when the bill’s passage was announced, he had no doubt he would have joined his colleagues in jubilation.
At its heart, the passage of the bill into law will enable the shift from institutional to community-based care for most mental health patients.
While it will take six months to become operational, already changes can be seen.
The march in Cape Coast followed a similar one in Accra and is all part of a concerted effort by the mental health reform architects to educate people about the realities of mental health.
The new law will establish a Mental Health Board independent of the Ghana Health Service, which means it will be able to source external funding from NGOs. It also allows for greater integration of mental health services by establishing district committees to ensure access to care is more uniform nationally.
It is the first significant overhaul of mental health since legislation was first introduced in Ghana in 1972.
Above all, says Dr Armah-Arloo, the establishment of the Mental Health Board and the shift to community-based care will ensure better use of available resources. That, he said, would not only benefit patients but the government and all taxpayers.
“The biggest problem until now we have emphasised on institutional care, especially the three big psychiatric hospitals, which unfortunately are all in the southern part of Ghana” Dr Armah-Arloo said.
“So that has been the practice in the past -- just dumping people in psychiatric hospitals.
“What we want to do new is shift the emphasis into the community. So we are shifting from institutional-based care to community-based care.”
While this shift would not spell the end for psychiatric hospitals, Dr Armah-Arloo said it would end many years of frustration for mental health professionals.
Until the enactment of the bill, mental health care, excluding the cost of medications, makes up a paltry proportion of the overall GHS budget, between 2 and 2.5%.
Too much of this funding, Dr Armah-Arloo said, was wasted on things like feeding and cleaning up after inpatients rather than actually treating them.
“Before I actually moved into psychiatry, I was a general practioner for a long time, I didn’t really think in those terms,” he said.
“When I joined psychiatry in 1998, I looked at the huge investment the government is making just feeding people.
“Here [at Ankaful] we have more than 350 inmates and we are feeding them morning, noon and night. This could be moved into the community. The government will not need to spend all this amount of money on secondary expenses like food.”
Last year, the Ghana Health Service spent 600,000 cedis on maintaining patients before factoring in their treatment costs.
The key improvements the passage of the bill brought, Dr Armah-Arloo said, would be to “prune down the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals; open psychiatric wings in regional and district hospitals; and, education”.
The number of inpatients in Ghana’s three psychiatric hospitals stands at about 1,000.
“If we can even halve this, that will be savings to the government,” Dr Armah-Arloo said.
“If you look at the cost of maintaining patients in hospitals, it’s huge. (With the changes to the law) they will be living with their own parents.”
Echoing his colleagues’ sentiments about the end of wandering lunatics, Dr Armah-Arloo said: “Most of our problems are that people are treated. They return home, but they are not integrated into their communities. Therefore, they walk the streets.
“But if you have systems in place, if you are able to monitor them, a lot of times this can be avoided.”
He said Community Mental Health officers, new roles created by the new legislation, would make regular visits to mentally ill people at their homes to make sure they were taking their medicines and getting the support they needed. These officers would also act as key liaisons between the various stakeholders in a patient’s treatment. For instance, they would ensure police officers in the local community were aware of a mentally ill person’s condition so they could treat them appropriately.
Better liaison and integration, as well as improved access to care throughout the country, and a concerted and ongoing education campaign, which has already got under way (see editorial), made Dr Armah-Arloo confident that in five years the sight of a wandering madman in Ghana would largely have been consigned to history.


If you have ever tuned in a radio or turned up at a party anywhere near Cape Coast you know you can trust the tunes will be pumping whenever Frances “Trustworthy” William Acquah is around.
In addition, even if you have never tuned in a radio or turned up at a party anywhere near Cape Coast, chances are you still know his voice.
Besides being a DJ extraordinaire and something of a living legend in the Central Region, Trustworthy, you may say, is the “voice of the nation” – or at least one of the most heard voices in the nation. That has provided, of course, you do not count the various NDC and NPP politicians engaged in daily on-air verbal slanging matches.
His dulcet tones give voice to so many radio commercials that he does not even try to name or count all the products he is pushed over the years when asked.
He is also becoming something of a matchmaker, a Cupid’s deputy if you like, thanks to his special Love Paradise show on Wednesday nights.
CENTRAL PRESS caught up with the 99.5 Akomka FM veteran of eight years late last month to find out what is the secret to his popularity.
Moreover, it does not take long to see, and hear, why. Possessed as he is with a deep passion for music, honesty (more later), and a silky-smooth, yet welcoming, voice, he has a manner that is nigh on impossible not to like – even when he’s unable to give you a simple answer to a simple enough question about the size of his audience.
Indeed, even the taxi driver who dropped me at the station’s halfway between Cape Coast and Elmina said he was fond of whom I was going to see. When I asked the driver if it was because of the music Trustworthy played, he laughed and agreed with a simple “yes”.
The fact Trustworthy spent 11 years at ATL, two-and-a-half years at Yes FM and several more as a mobile DJ for hire probably doesn’t hurt his popularity either. Whether he meant to or not, the boy from Tama has become something of a Cape Coast institution.
So, why Trustworthy, I ask?
“I have a whole lot of names,” he replied. “The most common one is Frances William Acquah
“Trustworthy is my middle name. The reason why I adopted Trustworthy is I am the kind of guy who hates lies. I see the person who tells lies as a coward.
“I’m the kind of guy who always speaks the truth.”
In addition, being called Trustworthy helps Frances remember that he must always be honest; he must always be sincere.
Does this tendency for truth telling ever land him in trouble?
Sometimes, he concedes, but he adds, when people do not like to hear the truth there are ways of being diplomatic so as to get your honest message across with hurting too many feelings.
As the 43-year-old’s loyal listeners know, Trustworthy is a jazz man, but he does not like to limit himself to any one genre. Good music, he reckons, is good music no matter what style it is in.
“My specialty is jazz, African music, Ghanaian music.
“And I love reggae too.”
Is there any type of music the maestro doesn’t like?
“I am a music lover. When I play music, everything comes by feeling.”
Therefore, there is an honesty in what DJ Trustworthy chooses to play, even if that means he has to change the schedule.
For instance, when Central Press visited one Thursday last month (besides his special Wednesday night gig, he hosts the lunchtime slot on Tuesdays and Thursdays), Trustworthy was scheduled to play high life.
“But I felt like jazz, so I played jazz.”
Above all else, it seems, Trustworthy is honest with himself and what he is feeling.  That makes sense really for a self-described spiritual man who sees music as a means of communicating not only words or lyrics, but moods, feelings and much else besides.
Trustworthy grew up in a household where the first thing everyone would do of a morning was turn on the sound system. Having a sailor uncle also helped the child Frances grow up into DJ Trustworthy, as he brought back music from around the world, including jazz and Motown greats such as Aretha Franklin.
He got into radio Disk Jockey after his so-called “grand master”, a DJ at the famous Dance Paradise in Cape Coast named Popsy, took the young mobile DJ under his wing and introduced him to the airwaves. As 99.5 Akomka FM now streams online, Trustworthy’s broadcasts can now reach every corner of the globe.
As for Trustworthy’s answer to my question about ratings, or the size of his audience: “I don’t know. I like to think the moment you tune into the radio and hear Trustworthy is there, you leave it on.”
In addition, what about his blossoming matchmaking programme on Wednesday nights.
Well, what started as a phone-in show for men-seeking-women and women-seeking-men has become more of a two-way talk show. Lonely hearts still phone in to let listeners know they are available for dates and to share their phone numbers, but, for the past three-and-a-bit months, Trustworthy has taken to phoning listeners’ girlfriends or boyfriends with a message their loved ones asked him to pass on. On air.


Anyone who breaks their arm should be locked up in a government facility, and the key forever thrown away.
If that sounds disturbing, good. It is. Just like a mental health care system that only institutionalises ill people or, worse, chains them up in illegal prayer camps, is disturbing.
It would be hard for anyone in 21st century to argue that “just dumping people”, to use psychiatrist Kwaw Armah-Arloo’s words, with mental illness a psychiatric hospital or – worse – in one of the prayer camps that rob so-called “mad” or “possessed” people of their fundamental human rights and dignity is preferable to helping them manage their conditions.
With the right support, people with all sorts of mental health issues can live full and productive lives in the bosom of their families and communities.
That is why the passage of the Mental Health Bill into law eight years after it was first tabled in parliament is nothing but a good thing.
Little wonder the champagne corks went flying as those who had been agitating for reform for year heard Michael Quay announced the passage of the Mental Health Bill in parliament four weeks ago.
However, the shift in emphasis from institutional to community mental health care will, inevitably, throw up new and unforeseen challenges. That happens whenever, wherever, new laws are passed and new institutions and bureaucracies created.
The trick, as they say, will be the way these challenges are dealt with. As with almost every other facet of human interaction, the key to dealing with these effectively, with compassion and understanding for all affected, is education.

To emphasise; the key to the effective implementation of the Mental Health Bill is education. Education, education, education.
That is why it was so heartening to see scores of people take to the streets, in a long march from Ankaful to town (CHECK), celebrating the passage of the bill and challenging common misconceptions about mental health, on Tuesday, March 20.
“Mental illness: it could happen to U”, “stop stigmatizing people with mental health problems”, “stop human right abuse”, “send the mentally ill to hospital” and “seek early treatment” were just some of the messages the marchers brandished on placards.
This demonstration of celebration and education was no accident. A spontaneous outpouring of emotion by those at the frontline of mental health care provision lauding the passage of the bill it was not. Rather, it was part of a concerted effort, or action plan, drawn up by the architects of the bill.
Speaking just days after the bill passed on March 6, Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital Medical Director Dr Armah-Arloo, a key figure in establishing the new mental health framework, said while they awaited the formality of presidential assent to the bill and the funding to be in place, the work on education would begin immediately.
The education campaign would be three-pronged and ongoing. Dr Armah-Arloo and his colleagues have identified three target groups to receive tailored education: mental health care workers; the general public and key stakeholder groups, like the police.
“We are starting the education campaign with our own people, our own personnel. Then the second stage is when we educate the general public; and the third is where we are going to pick certain stakeholder groups, like the police, schools, church groups, and tailor the education to match where they feed into the legislation,” he said.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges will be changing some of the more archaic cultural beliefs surrounding mental illness still prevalent in many parts of the country.
In addition, it is not simply relatively uneducated people living in rural and remote communities who need their preconceptions challenged.
In another win for mental health campaigners in Ghana last month, it was ruled that people with known mental illness should not be excluded from the biometric voter registration going on throughout the nation in the run-up to December’s election.
In an article on Ghana Web, mental health NGO Basic Needs lauded this decision. However, the article attracted comments from online readers, three out of five of which were quite negative.
For example, one commenter going by the online moniker deEvans wrote: “I thought a provision of the 1992 constitution says that the voter-eligibility criteria is: citizens of 18yrs and above and who are of SOUND MIND. Alternatively, has there been an amendment to that provision?  Someone should please educate me!”
That these comments, though anonymous, are made by literate, and supposedly educated, who care enough to post their thoughts online is quite shocking.
A person with bipolar disorder is not a person of unsound mind, far from it. With the right medication, their massive swings from mania to depression can be kept in check. It is quite possible to work with someone, even in the professions, and never realise they have a problem.
To disenfranchise them because of their condition is abhorrent.
It would be akin to taking the vote away from all those who previously, currently, or perhaps sometime in the future might, break their arms. Even if people with bipolar were insane, which they are not, they are still human beings and stakeholders in the community. As Ghanaians over the age of 18 they have every right to have their say at the ballot box. Bipolar disorder does not exempt someone from paying taxes.
With only three dedicated psychiatric hospitals in Ghana, and all of them situated in the south of the country, authorities can hardly act with surprise that so many people seek help for loved ones afflicted by mental illness from traditional healers and prayer camps.
As part of its educational campaign, the work of the soon-to-be Mental Health Board should ensure that those likely to encounter people suffering with mental illness, such as police, teachers and church leaders, handle them sensitively and get them the treatment they need.
In fact, that is why the establishment of a new breed of mental health professional, the community mental health officer, is so important. They will be the liaison between patients, their families, and key officials in their communities, so that all those involved in managing people with mental health issues know what they need to know about it.
Dr Armah-Arloo and his colleagues are only too aware of the problems of cultural attitudes and misconceptions in the effective, humane, and legal, treatment of people with mental health disorders.
He said health authorities would rather work with the prayer camps to change them than go after them with the full weight of the law. Health authorities wanted to educate prayer camp leaders about human rights and the new legislation and institutions that they must refer any person admitted to their care to.
“It will be a big job. Look at the number of prayer camps. In Central Region alone there are a lot – at least 10 or 12 of them,” he said.
If prayer camp leaders continued chaining up and otherwise maltreating people entrusted to their care, then, he said, they deserved to be arrested. Adapt or face prosecution is the message.
“First of all we are going educate them (camp leaders). First of all, they (the patients) have human rights. So we will tell the prayer camps ‘this is what you can do, this is what you can’t do and you have to do it in partnership with health services’.
“We will give them a grace period. If they continue chaining people, then you can prosecute it, as it is illegal to do this.”
Dr Armah-Arloo said it was an exciting time for mental health in Ghana – even if it meant he and his colleagues would not get much rest, especially during the next six months, as they got busy making all the provisions in the mental health bill a reality.
With such leadership and the right education, Ghana is well placed to make community-based mental health care a great success.
Many mental health issues in countries that have already undergone the transition to community-based mental health care are brought on as a result of the isolation and social dislocation people feel as part of Western consumerist cultures, where family and other social bonds are not always as strong as they once were.
So long as people are educated, these issues might yet be avoided in Ghana.
A British mental health care nurse, who is currently serving as a Projects Abroad volunteer, said the primacy of familiar bonds she has witnessed during her stay meant Ghana might avoid some of the problems with community-based care witnessed in the UK.
Writing as an obruni (I feel very akwaaba in Ghana – medase) native of Australia and resident in the UK, who has reported on health issues in both nations where the shift to community care has been made. While it is possible I may be romanticising the reality of life in Ghana, I am inclined to agree with my fellow volunteer.
However, prevailing social attitudes towards mental illness in Ghana must change.
Moreover, they will – provided the authorities get the education, education, education right.
Using last month’s March as a bellwether, the early signs are promising that this will be achieved.