World Mental Health Day: A mother’s journey from the streets to hope

By Gideon Kwame Sarkodie OSEI || HJN Member

Akosua Tuah with baby at Fountain Care Hospital in Sampa. © 2023 Thomas Bernakuu/MIHOSO International. SUPPLIED

The heart-touching story of Akosua Tuah, a 31-year-old nursing mother from the streets of Sampa, a Ghana-Ivory Coast border town, has captured attention in Ghana on this year’s World Mental Health Day (WMHD), recognised on October 10th. As the world comes together to mark this important occasion, her remarkable journey from homelessness to hope serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and support.

WMHD is celebrated annually. It is spearheaded by the World Federation of Mental Health and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also recognized as a day of global significance to raise awareness about mental health issues and promote efforts to support those affected. It offers a platform for stakeholders to discuss their work and advocate for improved mental health care.

On the eve of the WMHD celebrations, Tuah, a single mother of two, faced an unimaginable challenge. Previously diagnosed schizophrenia, she successfully delivered her third baby by herself on the streets of Sampa.

Despite dire circumstances, both Tuah and her newborn baby girl were found to be in good health. She was admitted to the Sampa Fountain Care Hospital, a private healthcare facility where her baby was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Mr. Paul Atta Poku, a Registered Nurse Mental Health Officer at the hospital, highlighted the importance of strict adherence to medication for patients with schizophrenia. He expressed concern about the high prevalence of mental health cases in the Jaman North District, where epilepsy as well as schizophrenia are common conditions.

In response to the costly nature of mental health medication, Mr. Poku appealed to the government to include these drugs in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to ensure accessibility for patients.

The story of Tuah captivated the community, as many had questions about her life on the streets.
Touched by her story, MIHOSO International, a Sunyani-based health-centered advocacy and social development NGO, stepped in to support her. They provided GHC1, 000 for her and her baby, emphasizing the need for consistent access to mental health medications.

A representative of MIHOSO International handing over the money for the upkeep of Akosua Tuah to the Hospital officials. © 2023 Thomas Bernakuu/MIHOSO International. SUPPLIED

MIHOSO International is a member of The Alliance for Mental Health and Development, a network of CSOs, NGOs, and CBOs, across eight regions in Ghana, and it is spearheaded by BasicNeeds Ghana. They have been instrumental in advocating for the passing of the MENTAL HEALTH ACT, (ACT 846), which led to the establishment of the Mental Health Authority.

However, Ghana has struggled to implement all of the policies outlined in the Act.

Mr. Thomas Benarkuu, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of MIHOSO, called upon the government to address the intermittent shortages of mental health drugs in the country. He also advocated for the NHIS to cover these drugs, as patients often relapse when they discontinue medication.

He urged Municipal and District Assemblies to include persons with mental health conditions in the distribution of the Disability Fund, allowing them to engage in income-generating activities. He encouraged parents and caregivers to provide emotional support and patience for patients, emphasising that it aids in their recovery and healing.

Tuah’s story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the critical importance of accessible and affordable mental health care. As the world celebrates WMHD, it serves as a reminder that compassion, support, and access to essential medications are crucial in helping those in need. Her journey from the streets to hope highlights the resilience of the human spirit and the possibility of recovery, even in the face of adversity.