Child patients starve in Turkey’s mental hospitals

The Sunday Times
October 09, 2005

Child patients starve in Turkey’s mental hospitals
Nicola Smith, Brussels

TURKEY is to be pressed by the European commission to improve the treatment of its psychiatric patients after an undercover investigation found children in its hospitals dying from starvation, dehydration and lack of medical care.

Olli Rehn, the European enlargement commissioner, said last week that the commission would look into conditions in psychiatric hospitals as part of its assessment of Turkey’s fitness to join the European Union. Membership talks were formally opened last week but it could be at least a decade before it is decided whether Turkey will be admitted.

During a visit to Ankara last week Rehn warned his hosts to expect tougher scrutiny of their human rights record. “The EU has reflected its commitment and now I expect Turkey to respect its commitments and this means vigorously implementing political reforms in the area of human rights,” he said.

A two-year investigation by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), a Washington-based lobby group, revealed a heart-wrenching picture of brutal abuse in Turkey’s mental health system.

The group was especially shocked by what it said was the regular use of electroconvulsive or “shock” treatment on adults and children as young as nine without anaesthetic. This not only violated international regulations but was also “tantamount to torture”, it said.

Investigators who gained access to hospitals and rehabilitation centres described how staff would make no effort even to feed some young patients.

“A little girl, who looked to be about two years old, was crying and squirming in her crib,” wrote one investigator. “A full bottle of formula was lying in the corner of her crib, just out of reach. I watched for over an hour and no one came to feed her. She would have had nothing if I hadn’t helped her.”

The report describes how infants left to languish for years in a state of inactivity suffered contorted arms, legs and spines. Others were tied to beds or had plastic bottles taped to their hands to stop them scratching, permanently damaging their ability to move.

Children were given little stimulation or proper medical attention that could have improved treatable conditions while researchers claimed that the most severely ill infants were sometimes left to die.

“I observed one child, who had vomited all over himself and his bed sheets, left for more than half an hour covered with flies and without any help,” wrote one.

The treatment of mental health patients is already closely observed in Bulgaria and Romania, which are both hoping to join the EU in 2007, but there has been far less focus on the issue in Turkey.

Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP, described the MDRI’s findings as “deeply disturbing”. He said: “This is a definite call to action for all who believe that Turkey’s European progress is dependent on the improvement of human rights.”

Comments (1)

Xanax sideeffect.May 11th, 2007 at 4:08 pm

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