Dream of top-notch mental health hospital now at risk

proposed mental health hospital in Ngong

The concrete block that stands at the proposed mental health hospital in Ngong. The concrete plinth stands sad, lonely and abandoned, visible from a distance as it juts out of the ground in the middle of the vast open fields at the Veterinary Farm in Ngong.

Photo credit: Macharia Gaitho | Nation Media Group

The concrete plinth stands sad, lonely and abandoned, visible from a distance as it juts out of the ground in the middle of the vast open fields at the Veterinary Farm in Ngong.

It was the foundation stone laid by President Uhuru Kenyatta on June 14 for a proposed national mental referral hospital, where the Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital is supposed to relocate.

Today it stands forlorn as a very visible monument of President Kenyatta’s frenzied rush in the last days of his rule to launch and commission projects that would define his legacy.

Kenya is replete with projects—roads, bridges, power, seaports, railway and other major infrastructure projects—that in the fullness of time will cement the outgoing president’s legacy.

But there was also all too evident an obsession with securing his legacy that sometimes bordered on the absurd. Some projects were launched prematurely when there was nothing to show. The concrete edifice at the Vet Farm is one glaring example.

Open field

Days before the presidential entourage descended on the location, bulldozers were busy clearing a road to the open field. Gravel was laid and a Chinese engineer supervised construction of the concrete block standing 5-feet tall. Water for mixing cement had to be brought in 50-gallon tanks on the back of a pick-up.

Just a day after the grand unveiling, two months before the elections, the copper plaque inscribed with details commemorating the occasion had disappeared. It is not clear if the contractors took it away for safe keeping, or metal dealers saw an opportunity in the middle of nowhere they could not let pass.

Sad look

A visit last week showed that the black granite cladding giving the concrete monolith a solid, stately look had started falling off. The whole place had a sad look about it, standing not just as testimony to projects that collapse before they start, but also as a monument to a presidency that got derailed in so many ways.

If the new administration of President-elect William Ruto, which has vowed to reverse many of President Kenyatta’s legacy projects, takes up the project, Kenya will have a modern 600-bed mental health hospital in place of the dilapidated colonial era Mathari hospital.

Burden of mental illness

The National Teaching and Referral Neuropsychiatric Centre, comprising the Kenya International Mental Wellness Hospital, will play in important role in addressing the growing burden of mental illness in the country.

Supported by the Italian government, it was conceived as a public-private partnership between the government and the San Raffaele Research Hospital in Italy. It was envisaged to employ over 1,000 doctors and staff, and will include various amenities such as a sports centre.

President Kenyatta said it would work closely with other regional and global centres of excellence to ensure Kenyans and the people in the region receive the highest standards of mental health services.

The facility is expected to collaborate with universities and other institutions across the world to conduct research on mental health conditions aimed at improving evidence-based care and inform the necessary policy shift in mental health care.

Now, the foundation stone of that grand vision stands lonely and dejected. There is no boundary wall, leave alone utilities such as water and electricity. The temporary road leading to the place is being reclaimed by grass and shrubs.