Friday, October 30, 2020

Rape, drugs, sexual abuse claims rock mental hospital

Nurses at the Lobatse Mental Hospital broke their silence this week presenting a grim catalogue of sexual abuse, shocking HIV\AIDS infections, loan sharking and drug abuse behind the walls of Botswana’s biggest mental health institution.

Personal accounts and a petition to the Ministry of Health state that authorities are turning a blind eye to drug peddling, rape and sexual abuse of patients. They cited an instance where a patient became pregnant while in hospital, a female nurse who was committed to the hospital was raped by a staff member, a staff member was caught raping a patient and a patient was almost stabbed to death in a knife fight following a love triangle inside the institution.

Patients are also running micro lending shops from their wards, loaning money to staff and members of the public.

With surveys showing that HIV\AIDS infections at the health institutions are among the highest in the country, higher than that of the general public, nurses warn that the hospital is sitting on a time bomb.

The situation is not helped by low staff moral: “some officers do not respond promptly to calls, while others do not respond at all, especially at night. On many occasions officers could not be located around the hospital premises when they were supposed to be on duty” states a petition that has been sent to the Ministry of Health.

Hospital Specialist Psychiatric Consultant Paul Sidandi confirmed to the Sunday Standard that patients are running loan sharking businesses from their hospital wards. “The hospital had an incident in 2001 and measures were taken to ensure that patients do not keep money in their possession.

This worked well but unfortunately about three months ago we became aware that one of our patients had borrowed money to some of our staff members. Immediate corrective measures have been instituted and the process is not yet complete. The relatives of such a patient have been informed and they are assisting us” said Sidandi in a written response.

He also confirmed that, “our preliminary surveys do show that we may be having a higher HIV\AIDS prevalence in our hospital than in the general public. This is not surprising because one of the complications of this disease is mental disorder, which may lead to the affected being admitted into a hospital for the mentally ill. We do expect our prevalence to be higher because of the above reason, not because people are involved in sexual acts whilst hospitalized here.”

Nurses complained that the “widespread abuse of cannabis” among patients is undermining their treatment regimes and makes patients more aggressive and dangerous. Everyday we impound bags of contraband cannabis from patients who are selling it from their wards.” Sidandi however told Sunday Standard that “Some patients’ behaviors has in the past raised some suspicion that their behaviors could not be due to the primary illness that brought them to the mental hospital, nor due to the drugs we give them. However our investigations have not yielded any positive results.

As far as the hospital is concerned, there is no peddling of drugs in our facility. There could be isolated cases of one or so of them taking dagga if the public somehow manages to evade our security.”

He also denied allegations by nurses that some staff members are being allowed to get away with raping and sexually abusing patients. There have been no cases of rape involving staff members and patients at this hospital. Over the last five years there has been one allegation of an intimate relationship between one of our staff members and a patient but this has not been proven. The hospital has however taken appropriate precautionary measures against possible occurrences of such nature in future. Our record reveal that in the last five years, one patient was discovered to be pregnant but we could however not establish that the pregnancy had occurred before he got admitted to us or not.

She had been to another non-health institution before. Fights do take place in the hospital for a variety of reasons due to the violent nature of mentally ill patients. It must be noted that patients with mental illness can sometimes behave inappropriately in public. The behaviors may include hurling insults, assaults, undressing, or sexual advances.

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