The numbers of drug addiction-related mental health cases at Rwanda’s only mental health hospital, Ndera, is rising as a result of increased cases of drug abuse, especially among the youth.
Medical experts attribute the increase in idleness among youth and lack of formal education and family related issues to the state of affairs.
But even those in school are vulnerable as reports indicate that the drugs are easily available in learning institutions, communities and city centres. Now there are calls for government to rethink ways of dealing with the menace.
Statistics on Ndera Neuro-psychiatric Hospital as of last year indicate that, in just four years, patients who checked into the facility with alcohol- and drug-induced mental illness almost trebled.
The Ministry of Health report indicates that at least 10,000 cases were received at the hospital from 2004 to 2014 and that the numbers rose from 68 cases to at least 1,368 over the period.
Dr Jean Michel Iyamuremye, the director of nursing at the hospital, says that in 2009 some 440 patients were treated for substance abuse-related ailments and this figure has since risen to 1,099 as of 2012.
Research findings from 2012 indicate that at least 52 per cent of Rwandan youth aged 14 to 35 have consumed one or more types of drugs while seven per cent are addicted, about five per cent consume tobacco and 2.5 per cent (one out of 40) have used cannabis (bhang).
The research among people aged 14 and above also indicated that some of the youths started using drugs at an early age of 11 and 26.1 per cent of the adults who consume alcohol and other toxic drinks in Rwanda suffered from trauma, according to the director of mental health at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga.
Sadly, apart from mental health services at hospitals, there is only one official government treatment centre for drug and alcohol addicts — Icyizere Centre, which is run by Ndera Neuro-psychiatric Hospital.
However, this year the government announced the inauguration of a specialised treatment and medical centre that will seek to provide care and treatment to drug addicts.
The Huye-based rehabilitation centre will be the first of its kind in the country and is expected to serve as a referral facility for cases related to alcohol addiction, with a capacity to accommodate at least 60 in-patients and hundreds of out-patients.
For youthful addicts, there is a male rehabilitation and skills development centre at Iwawa Island, which was set up in 2010 to address the growing problem of youth-related drug problems in the country.
The centre, located in Lake Kivu in Rutsiro District, Western Province, provides counselling for youths arrested and taken off the streets for rehabilitation.
Although the facility provides partial rehabilitation services such as counselling, some of the former Iwawa youths have after the six months of rehabilitation and training benefited from the programme to become sober and forge a living from the acquired skills instead of wasting their youth on drugs and streets like before.
With six other former Iwawa patients, Patrick Ndayisabye set up a carpentry workshop in Nyamirambo that has given them daily bread.
“We are now working people and, although we don’t have financial support to buy good equipment, we are able to sell some of the furniture,” said Mr Ndayisabye.
Although some of these youths have been sober for some time, they admit that they have not fully dropped the inclination to drugs.
“The isolation at Iwawa just forces you to drop the idea of drugs but the temptations linger,” said a former Iwawa patient. “Even then, I don’t wish to go back to a life of drug addiction.”
Even with such success stories, Dr Iyamuremye says there is a need to have more facilities with specialised equipment and personnel for treatment of addicts of all sorts.
At Ndera, Dr Iyamuremye runs operations with only three specialists, who he says are not enough to handle the increasing number of addicts at the centre, which has a capacity of 200 patients but houses 300 patients.
“We need to increase access to facilities and even provide support for the existing ones,” said Dr Iyamuremye. “For example, we don’t have medication to treat heroin addiction, neither do we a laboratory for testing all addictions, and the patient-to-doctor ratio is just overwhelming.”