A patient at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital has tested positive for Covid-19, health officials have confirmed.
However, the national treatment centre in Accra has refused to admit her because of her mental status, Dailymailgh.com can reveal.
The situation is causing concern about protection for other patients and staff, according to Human Rights Watch.
The infected woman was admitted to the acute care ward of the government-run hospital on April 20, 2020 and developed symptoms within days. She was tested for Covid-19 and transferred to an isolation unit on April 23, and her test was confirmed positive on April 27.
To prevent further infections, the government should immediately ensure that all psychiatric hospitals in the country test staff and patients, release as many patients as possible to avoid overcrowding, and ensure that staff and patients have adequate personal protective equipment, the rights organisation said in a statement.
“Despite the best efforts of hospital staff, many patients, staff, and their families are now at risk because they had contact with a patient who has contracted Covid-19,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“Closed settings like psychiatric hospitals act as incubators for the virus. Wherever possible, people with mental health conditions should be allowed to leave if they choose.”
After the woman’s positive Covid-19 diagnosis, the hospital attempted to transfer her to the Covid-19 treatment center, but the municipal authorities, who have to approve any such transfer, refused. Dr. Akwasi Osei, head of the Ghana Mental Health Authority, said they refused because she was a mental health patient.
“This is obvious discrimination,” he told Human Rights Watch. “If this person didn’t have a mental health condition, she would have been allowed to go to the treatment center. They are just afraid. But people with psychosocial disabilities should have the same access to Covid-19 treatment as anyone else.”
The hospital has approximately 370 in-house patients, 11 of whom are in the women’s acute ward and 80 of whom have been admitted to the hospital through Ghana’s court system. It is testing 87 staff and patients who came into contact with the woman. Staff have also been required to self-isolate until their test results are cleared. In the meantime, the hospital needs to find staff from other wards, who did not have possible contact with the patient, to take additional shifts, Dr. Osei said.
In March, the hospital issued protocols for managing Covid-19, detailing preventive measures and screening practices for staff. The protocols require healthcare providers to “maintain one meter distance at all times from service users.” But the protocols are geared almost entirely to the staff, and do not inform residents how to protect themselves.
Since 2011, Human Rights Watch has been documenting the situation in the mental health system in Ghana. Conditions in psychiatric hospitals have improved steadily, with patients being released to reduce overcrowding. Earlier in 2020, Accra Psychiatric Hospital renovated the men’s forensic ward, which previously had filthy toilets and holes in the roof of the dormitory-style rooms. However, people with psychosocial disabilities, such as bipolar condition or schizophrenia, continue to be subjected to involuntary admission and treatment, with little possibility of challenging their confinement.