State of mental healthcare shows mental ill-health of Ugandans

The weekend around 3rd October 2016, a child, a young girl, clearly mentally ill is reported to have wandered away from the major mental health care facility in Uganda – Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital – which is located in Luzira, about 4 to 5 kilometers from Bugolobi in Kampala. She likely wandered away and walked all the distance, ending up in the Bugolobi Market.

According to reports, she arrived at the market Friday or Saturday, and has been wandering in the market and sleeping rough. As I rushed from my Alinga Farms’ shop, going back to my car, I noticed this young girl half-naked laying flat on her stomach and on hot dirty tarmac. Since I was walking fairly quickly, I passed her, then I realised that I needed to stop and pay attention to this young person just laying there.

When I approached her, I noticed that she kept wreathing periodically. She is probably hungry or, in addition to her mental illness, she has contracted other illnesses such as malaria, I thought. I looked closer and I saw liquid stuff oozing out of ill child’s girl parts. And I wondered. Later when I mentioned this, some of the market vendors were of the view that she was likely gang raped by the homeless youth or men who are often intoxicated from drugs and sleep in the market.

What has become of us as humans? I thought. In the spirit of Wangari Maathai’s “doing my little thing,” I walked into the offices of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Office in Bugolobi to inquire who is responsible to assist persons such as the ill child laying wreathing on the tarmac, right in the front of the main entrance of the market.

I was told that I was not the first person to report the matter and that KCCA Bugolobi had tried to call for help – a vehicle of the nature of a pickup – to transport the child back to Butabika Hospital. However, I was told that since the carnival took place over the weekend, the KCCA vehicles were busy. Yes, the same weekend ill child wondered off from Butabika Hospital was an event packed one for Kampala. – launch of Queen of Katwe and the Kampala Festival.

Whereas, I attended neither of these two events I have still read reviews and reports of what went down – expenditure in billions. Back to the story, the alternative was to call the police, which KCCA Bugolobi had done, but considering that there is a major week-long event – the annual Trade Show at the UMA Show Grounds , the police will also be busy.

So, I pleaded – why don’t we call for a collection in order to hire a pickup to take the child back to Butabika Hospital – all that is needed is 15K to 20K I was told. I offered 5K and that is all I had; the Chairman of Bugolobi Market offered another 5K. I am not sure who else made a contribution but all I know is that I insisted on handing over the 10K to the person who would be driving the pickup in which the ill child will be seated ready for transporting back to Butabika.

Once we sat her on the pickup, we needed someone to sit with her at the back, a young man volunteered to do so but asked us for 2K, the Chairman gave it to him. Then a lady who says she works with similar affected children advised that it would be best if we gave the ill child a bottled drink so that she remains calm on the back of the pickup. I rumpled through my wallet and found 1K to buy Safi – basically sugar, colour and water. The ill child smiled while I gave her the drink and off they went.

I pray they arrived safe, I pray that she has been received back in the mental facility, I pray she has been given treatment.

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