Fate of 110 medical officers in limbo

DOCTORSas Health Ministry stops their exams

… Mental Health Authority starved of funds

The fate of one hundred and ten technical medical officers hang in the balance as the Ministry of Health (MoH) has stopped them from taking their final examination that will qualify them to provide much-needed health services in Ghana.

“They should have been examined in August this year, but a letter came in sometime in June or May that all who were under the Allied and Health Sciences [should not write], but the college authorities did not read the letter well and they involved everybody [including the technical medical officers],” Professor J. B. Asare, Chairman of the board of the Mental Health Authority (MHA) told Public Agenda exclusively.

“Technical medical officers at the Kintampo College of Health and Wellbeing, because there was a letter from the Ministry [of Health] that they should not take the examination… and because of that the school was closed down. So they are now taking new in-takes but the old people have not been examined. Until the Ministry allows them to be examined, nothing can be done. The consequences are that if we are not careful those who have had two years and a year’s training would not be examined until next year,” Prof. Asare intimated.

He spoke to this paper after a forum on media and mental health was held in Accra last Thursday. The forum was organised by BasicNeeds-Ghana, a civil society organisation which promotes good mental health as a right, with sponsorship from STAR-Ghana, the European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The forum was on the state of mental health in the country and the advocacy role of the media in ensuring that mental health issues are adequately covered in public discussions in order to engender the development of the sector.

“And so we are working out with the Ministry to allow the groups that are supposed to be examined to have their examinations before the end of the year,” Prof. Asare, a renowned psychiatrist of international repute, noted.

Asked whether the MHA was sufficiently funded to carry out its mandate, he responded: “The whole of this year, the Authority hasn’t gotten anything. We don’t have vehicles; we don’t have anything. So we are finding our own way of getting the work going. All that we have been doing is because of the help DFID [Department for International Development of the United Kingdom] gives us.”

The former Chief Psychiatrist of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital continued: “We are all struggling for finances just like many other agencies are struggling within the country. We are under the Ministry of Health, and what the Ministry gets, part of it will be given out to the Mental Health Authority but it has not come yet. So by the grace of God, we have got some money [from DFID] which is keeping us going; otherwise we would have been stillborn. We don’t have an office. It is now that we are renting one. We don’t have staff because there is no money.”

Queried on the government’s commitment to mental health, Prof. Asare stated that if the government had not paid attention to mental health, the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) would not have been passed. “We have the law going but it is the priority that we need. At the moment, we are being sponsored by DFID. But without DFID, we wouldn’t have done anything,” he added.

He explained that that the draft Legislative Instrument (LI) for the Act was at the Attorney General’s Department. “We did it [draft] and sent it to them but they are saying that everything will be ready by October. The LI is the legal translation of the Act. So that will tell us how to use the law. So when it is approved … and that also includes the Health Fund and how it will be used. But that would be determined by Parliament,” he observed.

A technical draft of the LI for the mental health law was completed by the MHA after it was established in November 2013. The LI is expected to, among other functions, give clear operational guidelines for some provisions of Act 846 to be implemented and facilitate the institution of the Mental Health Fund to obviate the financial challenges faced by mental health institutions.

Giving an insight on the draft LI in an earlier interview with Public Agenda, Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, explained that the board was done with the technical draft and it would soon be sent to the Minister for Justice and Attorney General for it to be transformed into an effective document.

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