ACCRA – Hundreds of people with mental disorders in Ghana remained chained up and confined in religious institutions, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported on Wednesday to mark World Mental Health Day, one year after the government had committed to eradicating these practices.
Recent visits by HRW staff to Ghanaian centers known as “prayer camps” – religious institutions that function as an alternative to hospitals – have shown that patients continue to be chained and confined in overcrowded conditions.
“Hundreds of people with psychosocial disabilities are still shackled like cattle,” Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Wednesday.
A 63-year-old man who has been in a prayer camp since 2012 told HRW that “When I go outside, I feel good. But we don’t get to go outside.”
Curses or evil spirits are often believed to be the cause of these types of mental illnesses, leading families bring their relatives to prayer camps.
The NGO urged local authorities to take “immediate” measures to prohibit the use of chains with these types of patients and to establish a control system that ensures that the ban is carried out.
On World Mental Health Day in 2017, Ghana set out to apply the international recommendations that patients with psychosocial disabilities “shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, forced labor and any other inhuman treatment,” including being shackled with chains, but Wednesday’s report detailed that the practice continues.
Ghana’s deputy minister for health, Tina Mensah, said on Wednesday that “Ghana believes strongly that people with mental health conditions should not be chained and people sent to prayer camps are not mistreated anymore,” a senior disability rights researcher for HRW, Kriti Sharma, tweeted from a conference on the issue.