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WHO, MHC validate revised Lunacy Act 1902

July 23, 2021

By Yusufu S. Bangura

Mental Health Coalition, in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Handicap International, Ministry of Health and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) yesterday held a two days national workshop to validation the revised Lunacy Act of 1902.

The workshop which took place at the Freetown International Conference Centre, Aberdeen in Freetown, attracted various partners across the country.

Speaking at the event, Mental Health Coordinator, Kadiatu Savage, said they reviewed the Lunacy Act of 1902 in order to draft a Mental Health Act that protects and promotes the human rights of those affected by mental disorders.

She said they reviewed the Act because they wanted lawyers to tell them what they have omitted in the new Act as the saying goes ‘he who knows it feels it’, thus noting that they also wanted the document to speak on their behalf and to ensure that mental health abuse and discrimination be minimized or eradicated in the country.

She noted that during the validation process, they had a consultative meeting in all the 16 districts to get the voices of people with mental disorder.

She said the new mental health Act would make huge changes after it would have been enacted by lawmakers as it would give patients the opportunity to be part of decision making.

She said the Lunacy Act of 1902 is highly discriminatory and stigmatizing towards mental illness, which, she said, was a major issue.

She said health literacy was extremely low and that the 1902 Act does not give them the power to prevent those having mental illness, but that the new Act would deal with their human rights.

She added that someone having mental illness is a human being, which means he or she should be treated equally.

Madam Savage cited data from WHO that the whole world is 23% mentally affected, with young people mostly affected because of the kind of substances they take.

“I was happy for the commitment of the WHO representative because they have the technical support, but we do not have the financial strength so their commitment is a policy statement. We are calling on other NGOs to support us. We still have more to do to wipe out mental issues in Sierra Leone. I also want everyone to know that mental health can affect anyone so let treat them with respect by showing them love,” she said.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative, Dr. Steven V. Shongwe, thanked the Ministry of Health and Mental Health Coalition for persevering with the process of revising the Lunacy Act of 1902.

He said mental neurological and substance abuse disorders affect  up to 23% of the Global population and 19% for the African Region, adding that there was an average of 85% treatment gap for mental health disorders and Sierra Leone is estimated to be 98%.

He continued that the African region has a double burden of disease, with Communicable Disorders like HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria which are still high burden disorders, as well as maternal and child health disorders which makes it difficult for government to determine what priorities they should focus on.

He said the investment of the Government of Sierra Leone in developing a Mental Health Policy 2019-2023, and the Mental Health Strategic Plan 2019-2023, indicates the prioritization of mental health and the efforts made since 2017 to develop a mental health Legislation are applauded.

“I hope that the new Mental Health Legislation will put in place the legal framework that will ensure accessible, quality mental health services to the population of Sierra Leone. As you review the draft today, some of the issues to consider are whether the draft is aligned to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which Sierra Leone is a signatory to,” he said.

He said it was also important to ensure that the provisions are feasible and affordable, not unrealistic and unaffordable because it will make it impossible for the Legislation to be approved by Parliament.

“We are committed to providing support to the Ministry of Health for the next steps that will need to be taken after this review, to ensure that the Legislation is completed, “he promised.

Associate Operations Manager for Handicap International, Mamoud Kargbo, said they were committed not only to enacting  the new Act, but to ensure that they implement the law and that  they will continue to support the Ministry of Health for them to achieve their goal.

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