REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA
MINISTRY OF HEALTH
Press Statement for immediate release
Mental Health Bill passes first reading in Parliament.
Lusaka (22nd February, 2019) The Mental Health Bill has passed the First Reading stage in Parliament. The document has since been referred to the Committee on Health Community Development and Social Services, which will invite witnesses to give views on the Bill.
On 15th March 2019 the Committee will submit the report to the Speaker of the National Assembly on their findings, observations and recommendations before going for the second and third reading.
The Bill seeks to provide for respect, non-discrimination, autonomy, right to self-determination and legal capacity of individuals who have mental health problems, illnesses and disorders. It also ensures protection of patients and other people from harm, protect property and regulate patients’ affairs.
The document provides for improvement in the treatment and admission of mental health patients to a mental health facility. The Bill sets out a community based approach to mental health provision which in turn will promote their livelihood.
In addition, the Bill establishes rights and responsibilities of patients, ensures that mental health services are available in correctional facilities. It also establishes the National Mental Health Council which will provide oversight in the management and implementation of mental health services in a way that is compatible with the international best practices.
The Bill also seeks to promote and protect the rights of persons with mental health problems, illnesses and disorders. The Bills also seeks to improve access to quality mental health services and facilitate the development and implementation of community –based mental health services.
The Ministry of Health has been undertaking legislative reform which has resulted in a number of pieces of legislation within the health sector being reviewed, including the Mental Disorders Act, Cap 305, promulgated in 1949 and reviewed in 1951.
It is evident that mental health care in Zambia is governed by an outdated legal framework. The Mental Disorders Act of 1949 is a piece of legislation from the colonial times which labels people with mental health problems, illnesses and disorders as mad, and disregards their views about how they want to conduct their life.
Further, this law uses offensive terms such as “mentally defective”, “idiots”, “feeble minded”, “imbeciles” and “moral imbeciles” to describe persons with mental health problems, illnesses and disorders.
These terms are contrary to the international and regional human rights instruments that Zambia has ratified. In addition, the obsolete law encourages involuntary admissions, indiscriminate detention in police cells of people with mental health problems, illnesses and disorders. Mental health services under this law are not articulated and lack institutional arrangements to facilitate smooth implementation of mental health programmes.
Under this archaic law, Individuals with mental health problems, illnesses and disorders are particularly vulnerable to infringement of their civil and human rights. They are marginalised, stigmatised and discriminated against. Some of the causes of this situation are historical as in the colonial era when mental health care was relegated to the periphery of health care provision.
The problems of mental health have remained and continue to exert negative impact on the health status of people in the country. As such, the Ministry of Health views the stigmatisation of mental patients and marginalisation of mental health services from mainstream health and welfare services as inappropriate and a past legacy.
The Ministry of Health working closely with key stakeholders developed the Mental Health Bill to repeal and replace the outdated Mental Disorders Act. The Mental Health Bill provides a framework for further domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Zambia ratified the CRPD, meaning the country should uphold the rights guaranteed in the CRPD. The purpose of the CRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and promote respect for their inherent dignity. People with mental health conditions are for the purposes of the CRPD, also regarded as persons with disabilities and thus are entitled to the rights set out in the CRPD.
Domestication of the provisions of the CRPD provides a framework that aims to remove barriers which may hinder people’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Ministry of Health