, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 22 – Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia stood a few feet from the men in blue as Psychiatrist Mucheru Wang’ombe explained to him that instead of Ward B holding 76 patients, it has 95.
“Hardly surprising in a public health facility,” the Secretary remarked.
This was not just any facility though, but the Mathari Hospital, Kenya’s level six mental health facility and this is what caused the Cabinet Secretary concern.
“Clearly this is more sensitive because of the mental status of these patients. It is actually dangerous to put so many of them in one small location,” he admitted.
Part of the problem, as explained to him by Wang’ombe, is the same facing prisons in the country:
“Once they’re sentenced by the courts they’re just dropped here without regard for the available facilities and they spend a minimum of three years here,” she said in reference to the court ordered admissions.
While Kamau pledged to look into the matter, he tempered expectations given the many demands and subsequent constraints on his ministry’s budget.
“We shall sit with the management of the hospital to determine the priorities. Obviously we can’t do everything at a go,” he said.
While Mathari is one of 92 hospitals meant to share in a Sh43 billion rehabilitation fund, Macharia admitted that it’s unlikely to go a very long way given the hospital’s many requirements.
“I was surprised to learn that there are about 700 patients here and given the hospital is one hundred and four years old and has been ignored in the past yet it’s almost the size of Moi Referral hospital, there are a lot of problems that need resolving,” he said.
In May last year 40 of the hospital’s patients escaped after overpowering its limited number of guards and forcing a door open.
On Wednesday, the various ward gates were padlocked shut with armed prisons officers stationed outside the maximum security facility.
Macharia was however curious to know why some roamed the halls freely, “aren’t some of them here because they’ve killed people?” he asked Wang’ombe.
“These are now mentally stable,” Wang’ombe assured him.