By Gillian Namungala
Zambia has recently witnessed a rise in a number of dreadful reports on social media which are seemingly caused by mental health stresses.
While it’s difficult to substantiate these occurrences, we cannot refute them. And they raise questions pertaining to mental health.
It is said that “there’s no health without mental health.” Mental health is important and key to our daily lives. Looking at the definition, it is clear and well elaborated that mental health is a state of well-being in which an
individual realizes his or her own abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productive and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. The importance of mental health issues cannot
be over emphasized.
Zambia Correctional Service has not been spared from mental health issues. This is for the reason that it is one institution that has been charged with custodial responsibility of those found on the other side of the law.
It is against this custodial background, encompassed with the entire criminal justice process and prison all-deal that makes it impossible to speak about mental health without mentioning ZCS.
In an interview, Tamala Zgambo who is ZCS clinician admits that mental health is one serious emerging public health challenge in our country and ZCS in particular.
She says of late the Service has witnessed a sharp increase in mental health cases among inmates and officers. Currently, ZCS has about 335 inmates with mental illness.
Ms. Zgambo who is also Assistant Commissioner explains that ZCS was on top of things and ensuring that patients (inmates) were cared for. Ms. Zgambo said the Service has two main centres where mental patients are kept namely Chainama East Correctional Hospital and Livingstone Central Correctional Centre.
She explains that the centres house patients (Remandees) with mental health conditions and those (Convicts) that develop the condition whilst in the centres.
Ms. Zgambo laments that inmates develop the condition while in the facility because of the stress, environment and lifestyle which they fail to cope with.
She explains that with those that come to the facility with the condition as Remandees (one who is not yet convicted) they continue with the court proceedings, and if the judge notices that he/she has a mental condition. He will write a recommendation called a court order for the patient to be assessed. Ms. Zgambo adds that the patient would then be taken to Chainama East where the assessment will be done for a period of six months and then the doctor will write a report if she/ he is able to stand trial.
Ms. Zgambo further explains that with those who develop a mental condition while in the Centre, they are identified by well- trained peer educators in their cells then taken to the clinic where a clinician will assess and put them on medication. And they will be on observation. If the patient is aggressive they are put in isolation until they calm down.
The Assistant Commissioner says despite challenges of lack of ICT equipment, inadequate infrastructure, financial support, transport, health equipment and nutrition, the Service has endeavored to ensure World Health Organisation (WHO) health recommendations for inmates are adhered to.
She was however, quick to mention that the Service’s open door work policy has assisted to bring a number of cooperating partners on board who assist with drugs and screening of mental health patients.
Ms. Zgambo cited the partners as Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), In But Free (IBF) and United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Others are Ubumi Prisons Initiative and the Ministry of Health.
And speaking during the official launch of the Mental Health Sensitization Campaign at Kabwe Maximum Security Prison and Correctional Centre held under the theme, “Mental Health in an unequal World.”, Central Region Deputy Commanding Officer Justine Kaunda expressed gratitude to Ubumi Prisons Initiative and In-But Free for their tireless efforts in improving Mental Health in Prisons and Correctional Centre.
Mr. Kaunda further called for upholding of mental health patients’ rights by treating them humanely and also respecting their human rights.
And speaking at the same event, Ubumi Prisons Initiative Country Coordinator Lena Kresojevic said her organization was looking forward to the commitment made by the Zambia Correctional Service in the implementation of activities that work towards the improvement of mental health among inmates and Officers.
Ms. Kresojevic further expressed gratitude to the Zambia Correctional Service for their open door policy.