Dear Sitawa; #mentalhealth in Cameroon

6:44:00 PM

Recently I did on post on issues mental health faces in Kenya and world over. The major issue especially in Africa is stigma caused by ignorance. A few days ago, one of my twitter followers from Cameroon, emailed me expressing the state of affairs in her line of work which resonated the post i did on a manic depressive woman who got repeated raped here in Nairobi and gave birth to twins.
Here is Tamara's email (posted with her permission)...I look forward to hearing what models we should put in place to protect this vulnerable group from being used as sexual objects? What as African states are we doing to create awareness about mental health, reduce stigma associated with it and care for those with mental.health problems.

HI Sitawa
I love the work you to raise the profile of mental health and epilepsy. I’m in awe of your survival story, that you aren’t asking the world for permission to be amazing.
I’m not telling you this story because its unique or because of the shock factor. I’m telling this story because it happens too often, because its become so ordinary that even I’ve forgotten to notice.
I am a paeditrcian volunteering in district hospital in North West Cameroon. I treat plenty of newborn babies, with infections, babies born prematurely, babies congenital problems etc. Sadly, because of our limited resources, it is not unusual for a baby or two to die a day.

Last week I was called to the neonatal unit, and I ran there expecting to see a sick baby, only to be confronted by a terrifying mob scene. The mother of one of our babies was cowering on the ground covered in mud and blood while the other mothers were screaming and jeering at her, threatening to kill her if she set foot in the neonatal unit. One of the nurses stepped up to explain the situation to me: “They think that mothers a witch”, she said. “Last night two babies died, and one of the mothers swore they heard that lady confess to killing the babies. They are scared that if she spends another night here more babies will die.”
I recognised the mother in question. Her baby weights just 2 kilograms and just the previous day we were trying to decipher whether the baby was so small because she was premature, or malnourished or a result of illness in pregnancy. Normally we would just ask the mother, but when we tried, this lady just looked through us and started muttering to an invisible person. Nothing she said made sense, she did not even seem to know where she was or that she had a child. Her eyes were constantly scanning the room as if she was afraid of someone. Instead of breast feeding her baby she had shoved a dirty cloth in the baby’s mouth. Her mother was at her side, she explained that the lady was “mentally abnormal”; but she did not know much about the pregnancy. We asked why she would let a man take advantage of her daughter who was clearly incapable to consenting to consensual sex in her current mental state. The mother chuckled and asked “ shouldn’t she enjoy something in life?”. It turns out that this was her fourth pregnancy. Two children were in orphanages, one in with an auntie. No father has ever been identified, no-one really seemed to care.
This woman had been sick for years, but with no psychiatrist in the region, she had never had a diagnosis or treatment. She had just been accepted as the “village crazy woman” and be left to wonder around fending for herself and being used by men.
I was horrified, but there was more to come. Throughout the week more and more people told me of mentally ill people in their communities with children. I started to notice a few in our neighbourhood, with small children strapped to their backs, or toddlers at their feet. It’s clearly not unusual for these women to be used as playthings for horny men in the community. No-one was able to tell me of a man who was made to answer for this sexual abuse. Some even thought the women lucky, that “at least they were getting some sex”, “some male attention is better than nothing”, “they get a chance to leave a legacy behind, not just die without nothing”. No-one considered the fact that the repeated sexual abuse, the hormonal changes of pregnancy and having their children taken from them could all aggravate an already challenging mental illness.
I know identifying and treating mental health in the developing world is a big issue in global health at the moment. But we need more than the health sector focusing on this problem. We need the law and the police to join us, to protect these people. I don't really know my aim in telling you this story. I've just been carrying it around, its been swelling inside me, dying to some out, dying to be told to someone. So I picked you because of your work.
Thanks for taking the time.

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