Prayer camps in Ghana
where mentally ill are held for months.
Thousands of mentally ill people in Ghana are suffering abuse at psychiatric hospitals and spiritual healing centres known as 'prayer camps', with some being chained up for months at a time.
A new report from Human Rights Watch says many people suffer severe abuse at psychiatric hospitals, with treatment being even worse in prayer camps, which operate without government oversight.
The 84-page report shows that thousands of people with mental health issues are forced to live at these institutions against their will.
It is estimated that almost three million people in Ghana live with mental disabilities, with 600,000 of these having severe conditions.
In June Ghana's Mental Health Act came into effect. While it allows people with disabilities to challenge their detention in psychiatric hospitals, it does not apply to prayer camps. This means people detained in prayer camps are left without legal remedies to be released.
The act also allows forced admission and treatment in psychiatric hospitals and promotes 'guardianship', meaning people with mental health problems are limited in making their own decisions.
In July, Ghana ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, under which countries must ensure people with mental disabilities can make their own decisions and should not be forced to live in institutions - contradicting the law regarding forced admission.
Doris Appiah spent over 10 years in prayer camps and psychiatric hospitals, where she was tied up with ropes for over two months. She said: "As soon as you get a mental disability, you nearly lose all your rights, even to give your opinion."
The three psychiatric hospitals in Ghana were found to be filthy, with broken sewage systems and foul odours. One hospital was so severely overcrowded that many patients spent all day outside in the sun with little or no shade.
At the prayer camps, many patients were found chained to trees in the baking sun. They were left in compounds where they slept, bathed, urinated and defecated.
The human rights group said adults and children, some under the age of 10, are regularly forced to fast for weeks, often starting with 36 hours of dry-fasting, during which they are denied water. At most prayer camps, patients can only be released when the prophet believes them to be healed.
Ms Appiah called for the government to monitor prayer camps to stop those admitted being mistreated.
Medi Ssengooba, Finberg fellow at Human Rights Watch, said: "The government needs to take immediate steps to end abuses against people with mental disabilities in institutions, prayer camps, and the community. The conditions in which many people with mental disabilities live in Ghana are inhuman and degrading.
"Ghana deserves credit for ratifying the Disability Rights Convention. Now it's time for some real changes to both policy and practice for people with mental disabilities in Ghana."
To contact the editor, e-mail: