Monday, July 2, 2012

Let the government bring Zack back home

Sunday Nation, 01 July 2012

There is an ongoing campaign aimed at raising funds for the construction of a spinal injury rehabilitation facility in Kenya. With the involvement of several organisations and common wananchi, it is headed towards achieving and surpassing its stated target of a quarter of a billion shillings. Campaigns both in mainstream and social media are encouraging all Kenyans to “Bring Zack Back Home” by donating to this initiative.

Despite the great intentions of this appeal, it raises a couple of issues that must not be ignored about the functioning of our government.

Firstly, a perfectly normal man going about nation-building was shot by thugs in a carjacking attempt in Nairobi. Someone in this country is responsible for preventing such acts, and apprehending the culprits and punishing them to the fullest extent of the law. That a citizen’s life can be so drastically altered in this manner suggests that the citizens’ security is not top on the agenda of this person. Remember just this past week, a minister’s security detail was beefed up after he claimed that his life was in danger. Mwananchi’s life is in danger everyday!

Secondly, after he was shot in this manner, this man received treatment and was eventually discharged from the hospital. Unfortunately, spinal injury changes one’s life in a manner that is difficult to describe unless one has experienced it firsthand. Things that one took for granted become impossible to do without assistance and, for a while, one becomes dependent on others for well-being.

This can be particularly difficult for high-achievers and, in many cases, the psychological stress related to such drastic changes in living circumstance causes problems ranging from anxiety disorders to depression. To obviate this and help the survivor to return back to normal life, rehabilitation is often necessary. It helps the patient to develop skills that will enable them to be integrated back into society with the least possible disruption.

Obviously, then, this should be among the national health priorities in a country that aims at achieving middle-income status by 2030. It is utterly conceivable that in government, there is a department in charge of curative and rehabilitative services, including rehabilitation for spinal injury patients. It is also possible that in this department, there exist dusty blueprints for different level facilities to offer these services.

Further, we would not be stretching the truth much if we imagined that this department annually puts in requests for funds to build just such a rehabilitation unit as Zack is raising funds for, and every year some mandarin deep in the bowels of government says there are no funds for this.

This is the tragedy of our times. A paraplegic is rolling his wheelchair down South in order to raise money to build a facility that is probably already in the government’s plans. If it is not in the government’s plans, then someone is obviously sleeping on the job!

It is not too late yet. The government can still do something to stop this man from doing more harm to himself. Let the government pledge to provide, from the Health budget, the required Sh250 million to build this facility. Let them also provide for the equipment and staffing of this facility, in order to ensure that this crucial function is addressed.

Let the government bring Zack back home.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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