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Dearth of funds hits mental patients hard

Update: January, 08/2014 - 09:21
A man suffering from a psychological disorder is treated at a medical facility for soldiers in central Nghe An Province. The province has more than 13,100 people diagnosed with some form of mental illness; and around 8,300 patients ae unable to receive medication due to State funding shortages. — VNA/VNS Photo Huu Viet
NGHE AN (VNS) — More than 8,000 outpatients diagnosed with mental illness in the central province of Nghe An have been left to fend for themselves due to a shortage in State funding for prescription medication.

The province has more than 13,100 people diagnosed with some form of mental illness, with as many as 4,800 people receiving medication through a mental health project under the National Target Programme approved by the Prime Minister in 1999.

The remaining 8,300 patients are supposed to receive prescription medication funded by the province's budget, however funding shortages have impeded access to medicines for the last four months.

In a bid to distribute medication to the 8,300 patients, the provincial People's Committee last year disbursed VND648 million (US$30,800) for the Nghe An Mental Hospital to purchase and distribute medicine to patients in various communes.

Among the medication purchased by the allocation included benzodiazepine and other drugs used to treat mental illnesses such as depression. However, the fund ran dry by the end of August last year.

Treatments funded by the State budget was issued through the hospital only, with patients unable to purchase medication at pharmacies in their localities.

Director of the Tuong Duong District Preventive Medicine Centre Pham Quoc Duong said patients suffering from mental illness often required regular treatment and supervision. Therefore, a shortage in funding for medications could have negative impacts on their condition, he added.

"One more thing to note is that they are outpatients – patients not held in hospitals. Therefore, if they cannot control their behaviour, it can pose dangers to others in the community," Duong said.

The director of the Nghe An Mental Hospital, Phan Kim Thin, said around 1,000 of the 8,300 outpatients without medication had been hospitalised for treatment, or used their own money to purchase medicine in the hospital. The remaining 7,000 could not afford hospital fees or medication.

In previous years, the hospital reportedly received VND650 million ($30,800) for prescription medication, but with the cost of treatment surging 20 per cent and patient numbers swelling by 30 per cent, the fund had dried up early, said Thin.

The lack of access to medication has seen a rapid rise in the number of patients being hospitalised or having hospital check ups. Statistics put the figures at around 30 people visiting the hospital per day – three times normal visitation rates.

In a bid to attract additional funding, the hospital sent letters to the provincial Department of Health and the Department of Finance to request a supplement fund of around VND560 million ($26,600). However, Thin says the hospital did not receive the fund until recently.

Deputy chief of the secretariat of the provincial Department of Health Nguyen Duc Dinh said the department has joined with the Department of Finance to issue the funds to the hospital as soon as possible.

While the funding will help support patients desperate for medication, the rising cost of prescription medication may well limit the number of beneficiaries.

The department was considering using other programme funds to support patients with mental illness, said Dinh.

The department has forecast the fund to be allocated to the hospital within two weeks. — VNS



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