January 9th, 2007
Patients at Amanuel Psychiatric Hospital in Addis Ababa
When the US-backed Ethiopian government declared war against neighbouring Somalia last week, my first thoughts went to our nursing colleagues at the Amanuel Hospital in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.
I met Fikadu and Sisay in October, when the two Ethiopian Mental Health nurses came to see how the Canadian system works at St. Mike’s. We had talked about how Filmmaker-in-Residence might support Fikadu and Sisay in their mission for clinical and educational reform for psychiatric nurses in Ethiopia.
In a country of 77 million, there is only one psychiatric hospital, staffed by 11 psychiatrists and approximately 230 psychiatric nurses. Until recently, Ethiopian doctors that pursued psychiatry had to leave the country to study, and once abroad, often stayed abroad.
Meanwhile, out on the land, families are left to to tend to relatives struggling with psychiatric issues on their own. They often turn to traditional healers and religious leaders for ritual cleansing, which comes at a high economic price for the families. When that doesn’t work, families desperate to tend their farms, sometimes resort to chaining psychiatric patients to trees during psychotic episodes.
That’s why Fikadu and Sisay have teamed up with nurses at St. Mike’s to change nursing practice and education in Ethiopia, and bring progressive mental health-care out into the communities.
But like in many developing countries, mental health often takes a back seat to emergency medical issues such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other deadly diseases.
And now, with the news of renewed conflict, Fikadu and Sisay’s work is threatened on a whole new level.
“As soon as war breaks out, nurses are mobilized to the front,” Fikadu told Margaret Gehrs, of St. Michaels, during his visit. Fikadu worked as a nurse on the front in the Somali war in the late 70’s, and Sisay was a nurse in the war with Eritrea in 2000.
This all means that the public loses most of their medical people to deal with the wounds of war — and Mental Health is pushed even further aside.
Fikadu told Margaret that his biggest worry about the conflict in Somalia is, that it might spark more squirmishes in the north on the border with Eritrea, creating a prolonged, multi-party conflict situation.
We hope to hear from Fikadu soon for an update on how it all looks for them. I’ll keep you posted.
Entry Filed under: Mental Health