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Northeast Crisis: MSF raises alarm over growing mental illness

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Mukaila Ola 

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), otherwise called Doctors Without Borders has raised an alarm over growing mental ailment in parts of troubled Northeast.

A statement on Monday in Maiduguri, lamented that desperate living conditions and lack of protection have aggravated the mental health of people in parts of the region.

The humanitarian group called for urgent reinforcement of humanitarian response in the troubled area.

The statement said: “Desperate living conditions and lack of protection in Pulka are exacerbating people’s acute mental health needs. There is an urgent need for reinforcement of the humanitarian response in Pulka.”

It further said: “Life in Pulka is anything but easy. The town is close to the frontline of the conflict between the military and non-state armed groups that has devastated northeast Nigeria for the past decade.

 “Of its population of around 71,000, more than 40,000 are people who have been displaced from their homes elsewhere in Borno state.

 With no civil authorities present, Pulka is completely controlled by the military.

“People’s movements are limited to a short distance beyond the town’s perimeter to farm, but many people do not feel safe going even that far.

 “The inhabitants’ most basic needs – especially for shelter, clean water and sanitation – are not properly covered. Some 12,000 displaced people are currently staying in Pulka’s ‘transit camp’, some of them living in the open for months on end.

They are surviving on less than three litres of water each day, far below the 15-20 litres of water per person per day recommended by international humanitarian standards for emergencies.”

 MSF further lamented that: “The displaced people have already fled violent conflict and lost their livelihoods. Coming on top of this, the desperate living conditions and lack of protection in Pulka are exacerbating people’s acute mental health needs.”

One of those whose mental health has been affected in the crisis is Mohammed Abba, aged 50, who fled his village, along with his two wives and 10 children, after it was taken over by an armed group.

Abba left behind everything he owned, with his family now in Monguno, he is 200 km to the south, in Pulka’s camp number four.

 On arrival in Pulka, he felt very alone and was despondent at having to depend on aid for his survival. He said: “(I felt) heaviness on my chest, as if my heart was swelling up. I was doing too much thinking – sometimes I’d just be shedding tears – and I found it difficult to sleep at night. When I eventually found sleep, I always dreamt of my nine relatives who were killed in front of us by armed men in Nguroseye before we fled the town.”

 This traumatic experiences have made Abba to have mental health problems, for which he is receiving support from MSF – one of the 1,863 people to receive mental health and psychosocial support from MSF in Pulka between January and June this year.

 “None of my children will bury me when I die”, said Mariya Duniya and Zainab Audu, who are also receiving mental health support from MSF. 

For 80- year-old Mariya, life seems meaningless after four of her nine children were killed during the crisis. Eventually, only elderly people were left in their village, she said.

Mariya, who is now depressed and anxious about the future, said the Nigerian military arrived their village on patrol and transported them to Pulka. 

The statement said one in 25 patients had a severe mental health disorder with psychiatric symptoms. As well as counselling, MSF provides pharmacological treatment for patients with severe mental disorders.

It further said: “Unfortunately, mental healthcare is just one of a range of needs in Pulka. MSF project coordinator Stine Jensen says there are major gaps in the humanitarian response in Pulka that are having a huge impact on people’s lives.”

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