The Gambia’s Ministry of Health officially inaugurated the newly refurbished Tanka-Tanka Psychiatric Facility, the country’s sole psychiatric facility – an initiative supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) through the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
With the facility hosting returned migrants with mental health needs, this formed part of IOM’s efforts to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services in a country with traditionally limited mental healthcare capacities.
The highlight of the refurbishment was construction of a new inpatient ward, which brings the facility’s total bed capacity from 100 to 150. Prior to the refurbishment, the facility had limited space and issues of overcrowding, which adversely impacted the privacy, dignity and recovery of patients. It also forced the facility to treat some patients in outpatient care, even when there was a need for inpatient management.
The expansion of the premises aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of residents and creating safe and dignified spaces that abide by international safety, security and sanitary standards.
“Sometimes, we are worried about the support and resources we need to ensure that basic needs are met,” remarked Dr. Mustapha Bittaye, Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health. “This support is timely; it is a permanent increase in bed capacity that will serve the people in need.”
Strengthened and more accessible psychosocial support is critical to the sustainable and holistic reintegration of over 6,600 Gambians who received IOM’s support to return home since 2017, many of whom went through challenging, traumatic and exploitative situations as part of their migratory journey.
Aside from the construction work, IOM also donated recreational equipment to support recreational therapy activities. In December 2021, the facility teamed up with the Migrants as Messengers volunteer network for an art-based psychosocial intervention, which saw residents and returnees coming together to paint a mural on one of the facility’s interior walls. The mural contains positive messages and images of hope and wellbeing.
All this complements previous capacity building efforts, including the development of a National Framework for Supporting Migrants with Mental Health Needs by IOM and the World Health Organization, accompanied by a corresponding training curriculum. This process played a key role in identifying and addressing gaps in the country’s MHPSS services – especially for reinforcing family, community and social support structures.
Finally, following the completion of the refurbishment, 60 staff were trained on administrative management and proper maintenance of the facility.
“We should never forget that psychosocial wellbeing is absolutely vital to fostering the reintegration of returnees,” emphasized Patrick McCarthy, UN Peace and Development Advisor in The Gambia, on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator, at the launch. “Therefore, it is prudent to have solid structures and mechanisms in place to support migrants upon return, for them to enjoy enhanced quality access to mental health services.”
Issued by the Ministry of Health