Indonesia's schizophrenic patients go untreated

INDONESIA - The Health Ministry has revealed that more than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia in the country have no access to medical treatment.

"The ministry estimates only around 10 per cent of people with schizophrenia are treated in a proper health facility," Deputy Health Minister Ali Ghufron Mukti said.

Ghufron said that what hampered the treating of schizophrenic patients was a lack of infrastructure as well as an awareness that schizophrenia was a treatable disease.

"A lot of people with schizophrenia are treated inhumanely because of the lack of knowledge in our society," Ali said, adding that the lack of knowledge resulted in harsher treatment for schizophrenic patients. "A lot of them are chained, simply because their family and the community have no clue about how to treat them," he said.

Data from the ministry shows that some provinces lacked facilities to treat schizophrenic patients.

Seven provinces, including Banten, Gorontalo and East Nusa Tenggara, have no mental hospitals available.

"We are aware that coverage of mental health facilities has not yet become evenly distributed. And if the regional administrations in those provinces intend to build mental hospitals, we will definitely support them," Ali said.

Data from the 2007 Basic Health Research (Riskesdas) conducted by the Health Ministry shows that more than 1 million people in Indonesia are at high risk of severe mental disorders, including schizophrenia, but that only around 3.5 per cent, or around 35,000 people, received treatment in mental hospitals.

The Health Ministry estimated that around 50 per cent of the total number of people at high risk of mental disorders were diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The ministry has not yet released the latest data with figures on schizophrenic patients in the country, saying that it will only be available after the launch of the 2013 Riskesdas in August.

Ghufron said the ministry was facing difficulties in expanding the coverage of mental healthcare due to the lack of mental health specialists. He said that only around 700 psychiatrists were available in the country. The ideal number is at least 2,500 psychiatrists.

The Health Ministry's mental health division director Diah Setia Utami said that the number of schizophrenic patients in the country had increased annually.

"We predict that the number of people with schizophrenia is increasing every year because based on our research, factors like the pressure of modern life and individualism have only gotten worse," Diah told The Jakarta Post.

Diah said that compared to the other countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia may have performed the worst in dealing with schizophrenic patients.

"Other countries have better systems for handling people with mental illness. For example, Thailand has a mental health directorate general, which of course helps it treat people with schizophrenia," she said. "We don't have such a directorate general, and we have a bigger population as well as a broader area."

Separately, Emil Agustiono, deputy to the coordinating people's welfare minister for health, population and the environment, said that stronger cooperation among ministries was needed to curb the growing number of schizophrenic patients.

"We should not take this problem lightly because schizophrenia is a lifelong disease and could decrease the country's productivity and cost the nation a lot," Emil said.