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Rwanda: ICRC assisting psychiatric hospital in Kigali

15-03-1995 News Release 11

When a country is devastated by armed conflict, psychiatric patients are often the very last in line to receive assistance, but this has not been the case in Rwanda. With support from the ICRC, the Ndera psychiatric hospital, the only one of its kind in the country, was able to reopen in August of last year.

There is an overwhelming need for hospitals such as Ndera. More than one hundred people are currently being treated there, and new patients are admitted every week. Most of the patients are suffering from severe post-war trauma, manic depression and hallucinations. One of the five children currently under treatment said that she constantly saw men with machetes running after her. Other patients were already ill before last year's events, but their traumatic experiences and lack of medical attention while the hospital was closed has aggravated their condition.

The patients receive tranquillizers which in most cases enable them to return to a relatively normal existence. But successful treatment also creates problems. Many patients have lost their families, and have nowhere to go and nobody to return home to. " Of course it is no solution to keep stable patients here, " said ICRC field nurse Marcelle Baltzinger, " but for the time being we have no other choice " .

What needs to be done is to rebuild the seriously damaged chronic patients'ward where stable cases will then be able to lead a more independent life. This should soon become possible as a National Red Cross Society will be taking over the rehabilitation and management of the hospital, under the auspices of the ICRC.

Although conditions are still ru dimentary, there is a marked improvement in the patients'lives once they are transferred to Ndera. Because of their confused and sometimes violent behaviour, many of them arrive in handcuffs, with infected wounds. " In time - and with fresh food and medication provided by us - they will be helped to gradually resume a tolerable existence with less anguish and fear " , said Marcelle Baltzinger.