Foday Jawla, Acting Matron at Gambia’s only psychiatric hospital Tanka Tanka, has disclosed that almost 80 percent of recorded cases of mental disorders registered at the hospital are related to drug use. He said the continuous use of stringent and stiff laws to control the use of drugs is not paying the needed dividend and thus the need to pursue alternative means of drug control in The Gambia.
Jawla made this disclosure in an exclusive interview with The Chronicle at his offices at Sukuta Salagi, where he also said Tanka Tanka is so far the only hope for persons with mental disorders living in The Gambia.
“If you go through the history of the patients we admit here in Tanka Tanka, almost 80 percent of them have drug related problems. So I can say the most common type of mental disorder we have here in Gambia is called drug induced psychosis,” Acting Matron Foday Jawla revealed.
According to him, the war against the use of drugs launched by governments across the world, including The Gambia, is mainly centered on the use of stringent and stiff measures to control the use of drugs, arguing that these measures are not bringing about any change and the need to focus on alternative means of controlling drugs remains crucial.
Jawla observed that even though The Gambia Government created the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in a bid to scale down the consumption of drugs, very little has been achieved. He said alternative measures such as minimizing the use of drugs and drug harm reduction should now be the focus rather than drug control where millions have been spent without any sight of a change.
The Chief Matron continued to state that most Gambians have very little knowledge about how to live with persons with a mental disorder, prompting the need for more advocacy work to change the perception of people towards psychiatric patients.
“Our focus here (Tanka Tanka) for now is about staging advocacy training and raising the awareness of the population because the hospital here is just an acute setting. Those that are admitted here for treatment are expected to spend a minimum of 2 – 3 weeks time and after that they will be discharged to go back to their families. If those families are not educated on how to take care of them, it might result in some coming back here because of relapse. So unless the awareness of the population is raised, mental health will always be of concern”, Jawla warned.
He added: “We want people to know that mental disorder is just like any other, it’s like diabetes, or hypertension among other disorders and I think if families can live happily with people having diabetes and hypertension, then why not people with mental disorder”.
Jawla noted that the greatest challenge Tanka Tanka is grappling with is the country’s lack of a rehabilitation center where some of the drug related cases can be referred to instead of the psychiatric hospital. He added that most of the drug related patients could have been sent to these rehabilitation centers where they will have extended stay to recuperate from their addictions contrary to the 2-3 weeks they are allowed at Tanka Tanka.
He explained that Tanka Tanka Hospital is designed to accommodate only 100 patients (currently there are 99 patients admitted), but being the only psychiatric hospital in the country, officials have no choice but to accommodate up to 125 patients at a time .