35% of Genocide survivors have mental health problems

Volunteers carry a trauma victim during a past commemoration event at Murambi Genocide Memorial. According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre, about 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health related treatment last year (The New Times)
Volunteers carry a trauma victim during a past commemoration event at Murambi Genocide Memorial. According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre, about 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health related treatment last year (The New Times)

By Michel Nkurunziza, The New Times

About 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health related treatment last year, the Director of the Psychiatric Care Unit at the Rwanda Biomedical Center, Dr Jean-Damascene Iyamuremye, has said.

10 per cent of the above are new patients while 35.6 per cent are survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

The figures were revealed while presenting findings from the Rwanda Mental Health survey that was conducted between from 2017 to December 2018. The survey which saw 20,000 respondents interviewed across the country was conducted by the joint team of researchers from Rwanda Biomedical Center, University of Rwanda, the justice ministry, local government and other partners.

1,200 of the interviewees were Genocide survivors.

“We took a sample of Rwandans in general but we also included survivors of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Depression prevalence is at 11.9 per cent in the general population and 35.6 per cent are Genocide survivors. This means one of three Genocide survivors faces trauma,” he said.

Prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stands at 3.6 percent.

Dr Iyamuremye said that the researchers also found out that most interviewees are aware that mental health services are available but very few were interested in seeking them.

“While new research is needed to find out why patients don’t seek help, some of the reasons the researchers found out include stigma, lack of awareness where some did not consider it an illness while others have traditional beliefs that the problem will be corrected by witch doctors” he explained.

Need for funding

Dr Iyamuremye called for funds to be injected in this area to support treatment.

“Mental health is still underfunded yet we need to coordinate activities of treatment and prevention, fighting stigma against victims and we need to raise awareness regarding access to treatment,” he said.

He added that many factors that trigger mental disorders such as poor psychological health, alcoholism, diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, cancer, poor diet, rapid development and technological changes among many others.

“At least 18 per cent of HIV positive people get mental health disorders while some mental conditions are related to poverty. Every health general nurse and doctor should have knowledge and skills to assess, diagnose and treat patients with mental disorders as an integrated way of handling the issue,” he said.

12 psychiatrists are specializing in mental health issues and over 2,000 psychologists.

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