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The Sad Reality at the Only Psychiatric Hospital in The Gambia (Tanka Tanka)

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Signpost of the hospital by the road

By Ibrahim Bahizi Drammeh

Over the past few weeks, I have had the honour of delivering fresh bread to Tanka Tanka, the only psychiatric hospital in The Gambia, with the gracious support from “Forward For You Association”

However, I was dismayed to learn that the hospital has a small bakery that is antiquated and unsanitary, lacking the necessary facilities to produce bread that meets basic hygienic standards. The facility is urgently in need of refurbishment or rebuilding, as it is unacceptable that a hospital that is responsible for the care and treatment of mentally ill patients does not maintain proper food production processes that are safe and sanitary.

Photo of the bakery from behind

The situation is further compounded by the fact that Tanka Tanka also admits patients who require rehabilitation, in addition to those with mental illnesses. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated rehabilitation centre in The Gambia, resulting in the necessity for patients requiring specialized care to share facilities with those who have mental health disorders.

Moreover, the hospital’s seclusion section, where patients who are aggressive and violent are confined, recently suffered a severe fire outbreak caused by the patients in this section expressing their rage. Patients in this section require specialized care and attention, and it is evident that the hospital does not possess the resources or capacity to provide the level of care necessary for this population.

Furthermore, the hospital’s perimeter fence is less than two meters tall, making it effortless for patients to scale it and flee. This situation is worsened by reports that Tanka Tanka has been abandoned and does not receive the same attention as other hospitals in the country.

The matron of the hospital, whom I had the opportunity to speak with, expressed his disappointment with the situation. Despite their best efforts to deliver the best care possible with limited resources, they are persistently faced with challenges that are beyond their control.

The condition of Tanka Tanka serves as a clear illustration of the challenges faced by mental health facilities in developing countries. It is a reminder that mental health should be treated with the same level of importance as physical health and that mental health facilities require increased investment, particularly in countries with limited resources.

As a society, we have a moral obligation to ensure that mental health facilities are sufficiently equipped to provide patients with the care they require. We must work together to advocate for more investment in mental health facilities and urge the government to prioritize mental health care as much as others.

Finally, I understand that most of the patients are referrals, according to the matron. But what happens to folks on the streets that do not have families to take them for treatments? It is, of course, a challenging task to take people with mental illness from the streets to a psychiatric centre, as many of these individuals may not want to seek treatment or may not be aware of the available resources. However, the government can establish a team dedicated to a routine identification of individuals living with mental illness on the streets and collaborate with the psychiatric centre to admit them and provide the possible aid required as most of them could be cured and sent back to society.

It’s important to note that taking people with mental illness from the streets to a psychiatric centre requires a coordinated effort from different organizations and agencies. By working together and implementing various strategies, it’s possible to connect individuals with mental illness to the care they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

In conclusion, the situation at Tanka Tanka is a call to action. We must band together to ensure that patients with mental illnesses receive the same standard of care as those suffering from physical ailments. We cannot ignore their suffering and must strive to create a brighter future for them. And advocate for an establishment of a rehabilitation center as it is a necessity due to growth of drug abuse within the youth. These programs would serve as an intoxication but also can be equipped by skill building for the inpatients in the center.

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