Oliver talks about women in Butabika hospital

The Mental Disability Advocacy Center has a column from their director, Oliver Lewis, called “Oliver Talks“. In the past few days, he has written a 3-part blog series about Butabika hospital, the major psychiatric hospital in Uganda. Butabika has been providing services since 1955, and if you have grown up in Uganda, you know that it is synonymous with mental health issues.

ButabikaThe hospital has its share of trials, as many other hospitals in Uganda. In a recent interview with NTV Uganda, Executive Director Dr. Basangwa David said the hospital has 1:50 ratio of nurses to patients.

But some of the issues that Oliver pointed out in the second part of his series that focused on the women admitted were dismaying.

A woman came up to me and explained how she had been in the hospital for two weeks and wanted desperately to go home. She told me that on admission she was menstruating and she was still wearing the same underwear. “No washing your knickers. Why? Bloody, dirty knickers!” she said. All she wanted was some dignity and hygiene.

And freedom. The hospital provides standard-form uniform – a long shirt-like garment in green (to indicate the fact that she was on the women’s admission ward), but provides neither underwear nor access to a washing machine.

I spoke with another woman who is the mother of five. She told me she wants to go home. Her oldest child is 12 and her youngest is 6 months. “I’m still breastfeeding,” she said as she exposed a nipple from under her dress and squirted some milk out (it landed on the uniform of the patient next to her, who seemed not to mind at all). The woman told me that she wants to call her family but is not allowed. Nor is she allowed to make any phone calls or complain to anyone.

Okay, maybe we won’t grant the “washing machine” part. Although we remain curious why the admitted woman was not given access to water and soap to wash her underwear. Was it a case of no water access? Or a lack of underwear to change into while the washed one dries?

Another section read:

Another culprit is a lack of hygienic products (soap, shampoo, lice lotion, other toiletries). To try and solve the lice problem, the untrained nursing staff shave many of the women’s heads. This isn’t a problem for women who already have short hair. But many women come in with long luscious hair, which often gets tangled up because there is no oil or combs. Lice love it.

I spoke to a female and male nurse and asked them about the procedure. They were coy, but it was clear that they sometimes shave women’s heads by force. Human rights monitoring has no off-topic issues. It is not for the squeamish. So you can guess the next question we asked: “What about pubic hair?”

Yes, that is also shaved, the nurses said. We asked who shaves the pubic hair, and they told us that many times the women do it themselves. “Many times?” we probed. It turns out that the nurses shave some of the women. “A female or male nurse?” we asked. The nurses looked at each other: “Ideally a female nurse,” was the female nurse’s reply. “Ideally?” we asked, desperately trying not to cringe. “There are times when no female nurse is available. It’s like there are male gynaecologist: we are clinicians,” said the female nurse.

I was talking to a Muslim woman before speaking to the nurses, so I asked whether any attention is given to the cultural issue of a male non-Muslim nurse shaving the pubic hair of a woman who is Muslim. The nurses smiled. I think they wanted me to stop asking questions.

Read the entire article here.

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