40 Patients Escape: Are Kenya’s Loose Mental Hospital Patients Dangerous?

By Philip Ross on May 13, 2013 2:55 PM EDT

40 patients escaped kenya
Nairobi, where 40 patients escaped from a mental hospital over the weekend. Thirty of them are still on the loose as police comb neighborhoods for the missing patients. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

40 patients escaped from Kenya's largest psychiatric hospital, the Mathari Mental Hospital in Kenya's capital city of Nairobi. The escape of 40 patients happened after 70 patients, all of them male, overwhelmed the hospital guards.

BBC reports that police were still searching for 30 of the 40 mentally ill patients Monday. Ten of the escaped patients were returned to the hospital.

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According to Medical Daily, police are using pictures of the patients as well as their belongings to help ID them. They have also announced the 40 patients' escape to the newspaper.

The hospital's superintendent told AP that the 40 patients who escaped the psych hospital are not dangerous, but stressed the importance of their return to the hospital to complete their treatments.

Kenya's mental health care system is insufficient at best. According to BasicNeeds, an international development charity that focuses on mental illness around the world, the Kenyan government spends only about 0.01 percent of its health budget on mental health -- meaning there is only one psychiatrist for every 500,000 people. The total health expenditure in the country, as a percentage of GDP, is about 4.5 percent (the U.S. spends 17.9 percent of its GDP on health). Almost half of all Kenyans live in poverty.

"Very little has been done systematically and deliberately by government or by ourselves to bring up the level of mental health in this part of the world," Frank Njenga, Kenya's leading psychiatrist, told CNN. "It is a major challenge but it is a challenge that is very sadly is spread across the whole of the Africa continent."

According to CNN, there are about 3 million people, most of them living in poverty, who live with intellectual and mental disabilities in Kenya, a country of over 40 million. Most mentally ill Kenyans face stigma; things like schizophrenia and substance abuse are taboo topics in the country. There have been reports of autistic children tied up in chicken coops; epileptic adults kept in dirty shacks; and daughters who are raped by their fathers, CNN reports.

"We as a people have perfected the system of hiding our friends, relatives and other loved ones who have intellectual disability away from sight," Njenga said. "Out of sight, out of mind, no funding, neglected completely."

Read more from iScience Times:

38 Die In Mental Hospital: What Caused The Fire At Moscow Psychiatric Ward?

Court Halts Execution: Warren Hill Lucky Because Of Mental Disability?

Spoon Prison Escape: How Did Oleg Topalov Use A Tablespoon In Moscow Jail Break?

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