Mentally-Sick People in Taiz, Miserable life [Archives:2000/32/Culture]

August 7 2000

Farook Al-Kamali
Taiz city, 250km South of Sana’a, is one of the most densely populated cities in Yemen. Nearly 3 millions live in this governorate. The rapid population growth has been associated with a sharp decline in standard of living. High rate of unemployment and the number of people living below the poverty line are also shooting up, leading to the increase of so many negative phenomena in the society. One such negative phenomenon is the great number of beggars and lunatics who swarm the streets of the city. They are walking the city from dawn to dusk t reflecting a nasty image about the city.
Being a small city, Taiz is now generally referred to as a shelter of lunatics and beggars. In the beginning the idea of conducting a field survey with these lunatics was as strange and frightening as it could be for the hazards that may result. However, it was a real adventure I will never forget.
I started approaching some of them. I talked to them, befriended them and I was amazed with the results. I found most of them have reached to their present state due to some social and family problems that were beyond their ability to bear.
A homeless lunatic, Abdulwahed left his village after being forced by his father to divorce his wife due to some problems between the two families. Divorcing her, he started his long journey of endless despair and loss in the streets.
Abduh’s problem was that he was a sex maniac. After raping a girl, he was severely beaten and driven out of the village to start a new life of agony and pain. Again while in town he tried to rape one female student who is in her way to school. However, she was rescued by a passersby who brutally beat him and turned him over to the police.
Saeed, the most miserable, was a hardworking student who used to score the first places in his classes. He passed successfully in his secondary school and was planning to join the Faculty of Medicine. Unfortunately, his father is very poor and could hardly make both ends meet. Saeed was, then, driven out of his house by his father to live homeless as a vagabond. The impact of this horrible experience was very severe on his character that he went out of his senses. He keeps moving from one street to another driveling away about science, philosophy and medicine.
It was obvious that most of these sick people’s problems are social and the result of horrible family problems.
What was strange and unfathomable for me was that those lunatics disappear during elections and national days. One could hardly see any one of them in any street. Later, I came to find out that during such occasions they are taken to the Lunatic Center in Taiz.
Yemen Times visited the Center and came to find two centers, one is affiliated to Al-Thawrah Public Hospital, the other to Taiz Security Administration. The center affiliated run by the hospital is used to receive cases sent by the hospital. Such sick people are usually brought by their families and usually stay there for only few days. The center provides them with some medical care. The other center is affiliated to Taiz Security Administration and is used for those lunatics who are accused of assaulting others and those who have no families. The two centers are next to each other. However, there is a big difference between them.
The center affiliated attached to the Hospital is clean and modern. There are two in-patient rooms in the center each with 6 beds. It was strange to see two patients only in the first room and three in the second. The center is located in a nice and quiet place.
Meeting with Dr. Abdulkawi Mukred, he said “The center was built in 1994 by Hail Said Group of companies to treat those who suffer from psychological problems. The center receives cases that are referred from the Psychological Cases Department in the Hospital. We do not keep a continuous record of the cases that come to the center owing to the quick recovery of most cases. Most of the cases are between 20-50 years of age. We also receive some rare old cases.”
Regarding the non-existence of an especial department for women he said “There used to be a special department for women in the center. However, due to large number of patients in the other center that is affiliated to Taiz Security Administration, the department was attached to that center. Since that time there has been no department for women in the two centers.”As regards the difficulties facing the center, he said “There is a visible deficiency in medicine and nutrition. Most of the patients have to buy medicine from pharmacies outside the hospital.”Dr. Mukred advised in-patients should practice sport activities as the center’s mission was not only to treat but also to qualify and train patients. He said “Therefore, there should be some technical workshops and yards for practicing sports. We are 6 doctors and 12 nurses in the center. However, we have never been given the incentives so as to work harder.”Then we visited the other center. However, after a long boring and tiring investigation by the gate keepers, we were able to get in. The moment I was in I was aghast. I shivered and was, a matter of fact, very frightened by the terrible sight I witnessed. There were many lunatics crowding in the center; some are semi-naked, others completely naked. All are in a real misery that words can never describe. They sleep on torn rugs on the ground. There are no beds in the center.
It was a dumbfounding experience!! I can hardly explain it.
I wondered what our armchair officials and activists of human rights organizations have done to relieve the suffering of these mentally sick people. They keep boasting of being supporters of human rights and respect them. However, all are words and no actions. These ‘sick people’ are kept in a place that is unfit even for animal habitation. Many questions have actually popped up in my mind including “Why is the center not affiliated to the Ministry of Health? Why is the center in that miserable condition?! I could find no answer.
In the Administration Department we met with Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Asbahi, manager of the center, who is the only doctor in the center. He said “The center was built in 1996 by the International Red Cross, Central Prison and Taiz Security Administration. The center was to shelter the homeless and the accused lunatics. Other cases come to the center by police or the central Prison. There are 60 patients in the center; 12 of whom are accused of murders. Last month they were 151. Generally speaking, 25% of these patients respond positively to treatment, 50% do not and 25% have a slow recovery.
The center receives a commendable assistance from the Red Cross which provides us with 30 volunteers who are working in the center. The Health Office also supplies us with some medicine.”
Regarding the difficulties the center faces, Mr. al-Asbahi said “There are many problems that we face including that there is no direct authority which is in charge of the center. No budget is defined for the center. There is only one doctor, a nurse and 30 volunteers from the Red Cross. Besides, there is a deficiency in nutrition and specialized medical services. There are also other deficiencies in clothes and rugs as patients frequently tear them to pieces.”Then we went around the center and while we were showed around, some patients came to complain about their situation there, requesting their going back to the Central Prison as the situation there is better.
There is a classroom in which patients are taught the simple alphabets and some simple words. The manager also told us that patients do some exercises on a daily basis.
Trying to take some pictures, we are not allowed by the bullheaded gate keeper who insisted on a permission from the director of the Security Administration. It was a clear signal to cover up the miserable situation of these patients who bear a witness to the flagrant violations of human rights.
To put simply, these mentally sick people are also human beings with rights. It was not their fault to find themselves in such condition. It was something beyond their ability to control. They are sick and the authorities have to treat them. However, the authorities concerned seem to play the role of a bystander. These sick people are either left to roam the streets reflecting a terrible picture of our cities or are kept in the Central Prison or are heaped up in the “Prison” of the Security Administration which makes things worse. These places negatively affect their physical as well as mental conditions. These patients should be given access to medical health centers which are to take the responsibility of treating them. Social Welfare Societies and Boarding Training and Health centers are to be established and to be fully equipped with all medical, nutritious, housing and training services so as to give these people the treatment and the training needed to help them overcome their psychological problems and come back to live a normal life. Heaping them up in these “prisons” is not the solution to the problem and is not the focus of this article. We want to send a message to all the “people in charge” and those supporting human rights to have mercy on these people and lend them a hand in their calamity and misfortune.