HEALTH Minister Sasa Zibe’s definition for the mentally ill must be different from his own department’s understanding of the same.
At least that is what he seemed to be telling Parliament when answering questions from Telefomin MP Peter Iwei last week.
For the minister, drug users do not qualify. He told Parliament last week that some 90% of the patients at Laloki Psychiatric Hospital outside Port Moresby are not genuine and that they were drug abusers.
We agree. That does preclude 90% of all psychiatric patients in the country. But we disagree with the minister that drug abusers do not qualify as psychiatric patients.
The level of chronic drug abuse is so high in the country that many addicts have just had their brains eaten out by marijuana. They become essentially vegetables. They need their own hospital, not just for their own sake and for humanitarian considerations but for the safety and welfare of the rest of society as well.
Many drool and stare off into space but many more become reckless and violent and are prone to violent fits and suffer other rages which include the tendency to cook and eat human flesh as has been reported.
Mr Iwei told Parliament that the Laloki hospital was crowded and that more such hospitals ought to be considered for other parts of the country. Mr Iwei should know. He lives right next to the hospital and has observed the conditions at the hospital and the behaviour of the patients.
Mr Zibe’s answer seems curious at best, downright insensitive at worst. It seems to underline the general attitude of the Government towards the issue of drugs and guns in the country.
The National Narcotics Bureau exists in name only. Its annual budgetary allocation is miniscule to the point of it being useless. It is seriously understaffed. Government policy in the area does not exist or if it does, it has never been announced.
Nobody knows which ministry or department is responsible for the Narcotics Bureau. Laws governing trafficking and use of drugs are lax. As a result, the operations of the Narcotics Bureau are negligible.
Yet, drug use and abuse, as a proportion of the social and law and order problems in the country, has reached emergency proportions.
Drug trafficking is certainly a big industry and big money. We hear rumours of drugs for guns trafficking all the way up and down the border area and even off the coast of the capital city where banana boats go out to meet darkened ships at night.
Years ago, reports emerged as far away as the west coast of United States about certain illicit cargo called New Guinea gold, referring to marijuana from PNG.
The related gun issue too seems to fall on deaf ears. Except for three MPs – Justice Minister Dr Allan Marat, Enga Governor Peter Ipatas and Dei MP Puri Ruing – nobody discusses the subject or raises any alarm that the guns report is missing after it was handed to the Prime Minister and the Internal Security Minister.
Yet between the two – drugs and guns – pose the greater challenge to law keeping, social order, good governance and development than any dozens of other issues taken together.
Drugs do put people in mental hospitals and worse. So do guns. Nobody, least of all those in leadership positions with all the resources of Government available to do something, ought to shrug it off as if it were nothing. That would be the height of irresponsibility.
Finally, to suggest that the hospital caters for people who might not be ill at all is also an indictment upon the hospital’s management and the health department, whose political head is Mr Zibe. This is an insult to the dedicated staff who work in conditions that are far more gruelling and hazardous that in most ordinary hospitals.
The mentally retarded do not wait patiently for their medicine as do other patients. They wander about constantly.
Often the mental hospital worker is part medical worker and part prison warder. He or she has to keep the patient under constant care and medication and at the same time, the more violent among them have to be kept safe from harming themselves, hospital staff and even outsiders should they escape.
We think Mr Zibe’s remarks are a flippant and insensitive answer to a very serious situation that is increasingly becoming a problem and a threat to society.
If, on the other hand, the minister is correct with his information, then the big question is: why are they still there?