GULU– Police in Gulu have impounded 13 bags of marijuana leading to the arrest of 48 suspects in connection with the illicit trade. The suspects are being held at Gulu Central Police Station.
The items were discovered on Wednesday afternoon in one of the buildings along Ring Road in Gulu City in an ongoing joint security operation against the rising number of criminal gangs in the area.
The Aswa River Regional Police Spokesperson, David Ongom Mudong revealed in an interview with theCooperator shortly after the arrest that, the suspects include foreign nationals.
“They have been masquerading as hawkers selling items in the streets of Gulu and yet at night they are engaged in criminal activities,” Ongom told theCooperator on Wednesday in an interview.
He however explained that police was still investigating how the suspects entered the country. Some of the suspects are Congolese, Somalis and Indian nationals. They will either be charged or deported depending on the investigations.
Ministry of Health recently expressed concerns on the rising number of smokers in Gulu City which it attributed to the increasing number of mental health related cases.
At Gulu Regional Referral Hospital Mental Health Unit, 9,061 patients sought treatment at the facility with different mental health conditions in 2020 with 5,000 admissions.
The hospital currently receives a minimum of 100 new cases of mental illnesses on a weekly basis, 90% of them have alcohol and substance abuse related cases. The substances include but not limited to marijuana or opium.
Charles Eyoung, the Psychiatrist Medical Officer at the Mental Health Unit revealed that, despite the increasing number of patients, the hospital does not have some of the essential drugs.
Among the drugs absent from the hospital include; Phenytoin which controls seizures in patients who are epileptic and Naltrexone used for treatment of both post traumatic disorder and alcohol abuse.
Eyoung explained that the hospital has no choice but to refer patients to private pharmacies to buy drugs. Unfortunately, many cannot afford them due to their exorbitant prices.
“Some of them walk on foot for two days to reach this facility and you can’t say that a patient will afford treatment from the private health facilities even when we refer them,” Eyoung added.
He further revealed that the minimum cost of treatment of a patient with a mental health condition costs between Shs.600,000 to Shs.365,000 per month especially those with alcohol and substance abuse related cases.
“The people we see on the street with complete loss of contact with reality could have been avoided but drugs are expensive for the poor to afford,” Eyoung further explained.
The hospital Director, Dr. James Elima has acknowledged the gaps in service delivery at the mental health unit but noted that the health facilities in the region are experiencing a surge in number of patients.
Elima attributed the resurgence of mental illnesses in the region to post traumatic disorders which arose from the decades of war between the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and the government forces.
He also revealed that the hospital annually requests the government for Shs2.6 billion for purchase of the essential medicines but only gets Shs1.4 billion of the budget which he says is inadequate.
He urged the government to increase funding for the mental health sector which he says is meagre to keep patients on treatment and provide them with healing.
“Today, we think mental health is for those who have removed their clothes but tomorrow will be someone else, the level of stress in the region is high,” Dr. Elima added.
Some of the families who spoke to theCooperator described the mental health sector as a forgotten and isolated sector compared to other sectors in health care.
Sunday Ajok, a resident of Kasubi, a mother of a 20-year-old daughter who has battled mental illness from her infancy says, she has sold off her only three plots of land to raise money for treating her child in vain.
Ajok explained that the Shs.10 million she raised from the sale of land was all spent on traditional herbalists before she turned to the hospital but only to find out that the drugs are still not available.
“I have lost all my livelihood because I must closely attend to her but nothing has changed because at the age of 20, I still feed her like baby,” Ajok recounts.
Tamali Atim, the elderly sister of a 35-year-old man who similarly developed a mental health condition while only 8 years old says, her family spends Shs.5,000 daily to buy drugs from private pharmacies.
She has equally asked the government to provide livelihood support to the families of mental health patients and also to provide drugs in the lower heath facilities for the patients who are deep in rural areas.
In an earlier interview, Derrick Kizza, the Executive Director, Mental Health Uganda advised government to prioritize mental health services saying most of the young people in the country are exposed to mental illnesses.
“When Ministers and other government officials secretly tell you that my brother, look, some of my children are battling with the condition; then that tells you that the issue is not only for ordinary people but also people in big positions in government. Therefore, the government ought to deal with it,” Kizza added.
However, the most common mental health condition in Acholi sub-region is bipolar commonly known as mood swings, depression, post-traumatic disorders and anxiety among others.
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