By:Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- The Ministry of Health (MoH) has been tasked to enhance the integration between a mental health program and existing communicable diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS.

This directive is contained in the recent report published by the Ombudsman Advocate Tlotliso Polaki.

The Ombudsman undertook the study tour at the country’s only mental health facility, Mohlomi Mental Hospital to get first-hand experience of the situation in this facility and inspect the state of the facility.

“The objective of the inspections was to establish whether the conditions prevailing at this institution are conducive to or fit for human habitation,” reads the report in pertinent part.

The report has pointed out that the living conditions at the facility continuously   violate the patient’s human rights to a conducive environment thereby impacting on their rehabilitation and recovery.

Section 10 of the Ombudsman Act No.9 of 1996 mandates the Ombudsman in discharging the mandate of that office to “enter and inspect police, military or prison cells, government hospitals, asylum, or any other places or centers where any person is detained or kept whether for safe custody or in terms of any law”.

The report charges: “The MoH [to] further ensure that the mental health program is integrated with other existing communicable disease programs such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis based on the fact that mental illness in HIV and Tuberculosis patients is said to generally affect their drug use compliance and treatment outcomes.”

While there is generally no overcrowding which is feared to increase the spread of the TB infection amongst the patients, the Ombudsman observed that the prevailing conditions at Mohlomi Mental Hospital, she pointed out that the forensic unit section is congested and as such appropriate action is required to address this situation.

“People affected by TB have a higher risk of mental health conditions, which can negatively impact TB treatment outcomes, health-related quality of life and other health and social outcomes. In fact, mental health conditions are one of the top impairments suffered by people with TB. Stigma and discrimination associated with a TB diagnosis and the treatment course, as well as human rights-related barriers to TB care can also adversely affect mental health.

“Therefore, mental health care should be addressed as an important part of holistic people-centered care for people with TB and their families,” writes the World Health Organization (WHO).