It has been more than five years since the provincial assembly passed the Sindh Mental Health Act Bill in September 2013, but the impending future of this bill continues to be clouded by uncertainty.
The Sindh government had notified the Sindh Mental Health Authority in October 2017 to introduce and implement welfare policies for people battling mental disorders. Despite the orders issued by the Sindh Government, the Sindh Mental Health Authority is still devoid of the 250 million rupees promised in seed money. Moreover, there is no office space available for members to work and hold meetings. Even after approximately 18 months, no structure of the authority has been laid down.
Experts have voiced their concerns and disappointment at the jaded and lackluster attitude adopted by the Health Department and Government of Sindh towards the SMHA. Major divisional districts and taluka hospitals are operating without qualified psychiatrists across the Sindh province at present.
There is currently only one hospital in the Sindh province outside of Karachi that caters to people with mental disorders known as the Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Institute of Psychiatry situated in Hyderabad. In Karachi, the Department of Psychiatry established at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Postgraduate Centre, Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi, Sindh Government Hospital, and the Lyari Hospital have well established and operational psychiatry wards. Unfortunately, no such facility is available in the cities of Nawabshah, Sukkur, and Mirpurkhas.
There are approximately 400 qualified psychiatrists in Pakistan. Amongst these 400, only 140 are practicing in the province of Sindh out of which 80 of them are working in Karachi and Hyderabad.
Chairman, Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), Karim Ahmed Khawaja, stated that mental health awareness programs are being organized across the Sindh province to create awareness in the general public and doctors about the prevalence of mental disorders and issues associated with them. He quoted that the authority was formed to help devise a strategy for people who are suffering from psychological or behavioral disorders.
Khawaja mentioned that an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population in Pakistan is living with psychological disorders. The SMHA recently organized a round-table discussion in the Thar district to discuss efforts that could be made to help reduce the suicide quotient in the region.
Khawaja moved on to mention that the SMHA would be made operational across all of Sindh soon after authorities would release the promised seed money. According to Chairman Khawaja, this law would ensure public health awareness, strategy, and planning, patient rights, confidentiality, and punishments for attendants as well.