CAIRO: A Sudanese mental patient spent 20 years in an Egyptian hospital because the supervising doctors diagnosed him as being infected with the HIV virus, repeatedly refusing to release him.
Twenty years later, they discovered he never carried the virus.
Law 141 of the year 1944 stipulates that doctors are obliged to keep mental patients in custody until they recover, and the Ministry of Health has been working on changing the law.
On Thursday, the ministry announced that it has finished drafting a new law that would secure the rights of patients who suffer from psychological illnesses as well as improve their image in society.
The law has been submitted to the People’s Assembly for approval.
Dr Nasser Loza, secretary general of the Mental Health in Egypt organization, recounted the unfortunate story of the Sudanese patient as he talked about the history of mental illness in the country.
He said people’s perception of mental patients must change and they should be accepted as active members of society.
Referring to the Sudanese case, Loza asked, “Who are we to blame in this case? Is it the society that forced doctors to not release the patient? Is it his family who did not ask about him for 20 years? Or who?
The proposed law would nullify Law 141.
“We cannot function with a law that has not been changed since 1944. A lot has changed since then, said Dr Abdel Hamid Abaza, head of the political bureau at the Ministry of Health.
Abaza also said that a country’s level of civilization and democracy can be measured by the way it treats minorities and people with special needs.
The new law would also call for the renovation of all mental hospitals and improve treatment.
The Health Ministry organized a conference last Thursday to announce the completion of the draft law and explain its aims.
Experts discussed the hardships facing mental patients and the struggle it has been to push for better psychological and mental healthcare.
“Twenty years . I have been working on changing the mental health law for 20 whole years, said Hamdy Al-Sayed, chairman of the health committee in the People’s Assembly.
Al-Sayed had a significant role in bringing the shortcomings of the current law to the forefront and highlighting the need for a new law.
“Which one of us does not get depressed or over worried from time to time? asked Al-Sayed. “Is it this hard to accept other people who suffer from depression but do not know how to handle it and decide to go to a doctor?
According to statistics, one percent of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia, Al-Sayed said. “Those people live among us, they function and produce, it is about time to recognize them.
Loza pointed to the misconception and stigma that accompanies mental illness, which often leads to patients being wrongfully accused as the number one suspects in violent crimes.
“This is a big misconception, Loza said. “Most violent crimes are not carried out by mental patients, rather normal people who do not suffer from mental illness, Loza added.
The conference was attended by Minister of Health Dr Hatem Al-Gabaly, Ambassador of Finland Hannu Halinen and Dr Anthony Zigmond, vice president of Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.