New Telegraph

February 22, 2024

Aro: Ogun community haunted by stigma of hosting Neuropsychiatric Hospital

The name “Aro”, among many residents of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, is synonymous with misfortune and usually something bad. This is because the community hosts the popular Neuropsychiatric Hospital. Over the years, the name “Aro” has been used by many to pass negative remark when rebuking someone or referring to the mental health of an individual.

The beginning

The hospital, which started as an administrative Prison/Asylum, was established by the British Colonial Government for the mentally ill soldiers repatriated home after World War II. The medical institution commenced operations in Lantoro as an annex in 1944. The hospital later moved to a small community, called “Aro” village following the increase in the number of patients and also because of the need to find a location outside of the town. Aro village, in Ita-Oshin, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway road, became a suitable location in hosting the hospital. The hospital gained popularity in 1954 under the pioneer Medical Director, Late Prof. Thomas Adeoye Lambo.

Stigma

Aro village has been haunted by the stigma of playing host to the hospital even after the government relocated the hospital to its permanent site, which is a few metres away on the expressway. Residents share their pains and gains stories of hosting Neuropsychiatric Hospital Despite its proximity to Ita- Oshin, a commercial town in Abeokuta, Aro village is a quiet sleepy village with little commercial activities. Old and dilapidated structures originally used in running the operations of the hospital littered the community. A block of one of the buildings which is still partially standing has now been converted into a private residence by some of the villagers. While other dilapidated structures have now become shelter for reptiles and other dangerous animals.

World map

Speaking to our correspondent, the secretary of Aro village, Dauda Sumonu lamented that the community is yet to recover from the stigma and negative perception people hold about the village. Conducting our correspondent round, the village, Sumonu recounted how the hospital put the community on the world map when it started operations. According to him, the hospital started with a few buildings, including: an administrative block, doctors’ residence and admission wards, among others. He said the hospital brought electricity and other infrastructural development to the village. “I’m a resident of this village. I was born here and I also serve as the secretary of the community. “Aro hospital which late Professor Lambo established started in this village. The hospital commenced its operations here, even some of the buildings used as at that time when the hospital started are still here. “The hospital moved to its permanent site, the mental hospital relocated from here when the facility here could no longer accommodate their patients. “Initially when they moved, this place was still functioning as their annex, but after some time, they stopped operating from here. “From the history that is available to us, our forefathers supported the hospital when it started here. “Professor Lambo facilitated the electrification of this village, but ever since the hospital has been moved from here, there has not been much development here. In fact, this place has virtually remained the same because the stigma sent many people who wanted to either buy land or build houses here away.

Perception

“The perception of many people is that people with mental illness are the residents of this village and this perception has continued to hunt this community. “Even after the hospital moved, many people still do not want to be associated with the community and this is the major reason why you see that there is not much development here.

“Many people associate this community with mental illness and this keeps scaring people away. Whenever our children go outside and mention that they are from Aro village, people want to distance themselves from them all because of the name ‘Aro’. They think people living here are psychiatric patients. But all these are not true,” Sumonu said. A petty trader in the community, Alhaja Kudirat Balogun lamented that the government has neglected the village since the relocation of the hospital. According to her, people are always scared of being associated with the village because of the stigma.

Her words: “We have been battling with the stigma the people have against us. We are not mentally ill, but many people still think this village is cursed with mental illness. “Nobody here is mentally sick, that perception needs to be corrected among many people who still think Aro village is for mad people. “There is no mad spirit hunting us here as many people have been made to believe. This is just a village that hosted a hospital and we are happy our forefathers were able to accommodate and support the hospital when it started.” Changing the narratives with community-based general health care centre. Worried by the negative perception of the people towards the hospital, the management of the hospital in 2007 established a communitybased General medical department to correct the erroneous belief that “Aro” is for mentally derailed patients.

Over the years, the hospital has evolved from a specialised hospital which caters for mental patients only to a world class health facility providing qualitative primary, secondary and community based health services to other patients. The hospital also serves as a training and research facility for medical students. Despite the innovation, the hospital still remains a treatment and rehabilitative centre for severe mentally ill patients and a tertiary referral centre to other psychiatric care facilities in the country.

Thousands treated

According to available records, the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, treated no fewer than 36,298 patients in 2019. The statistics made available to our correspondent revealed that the 537-bed hospital registered 3,144 new patients, comprising 1,717 males and 1,427 females between January and December 2019. The hospital also recorded a total of 29,906 outpatient visits (13,877 males and 16,029 females), while the child and adolescent clinic recorded 3,248 attendance. The Head of Health Education and Drug Abuse Prevention Department of the hospital, Anthony Ogbemudia Ogbebor listed some of the services available in the hospital to include: child and adolescent services, old age services, alcohol and drug treatment services, forensic services, and rehabilitation services. A Principal Medical Officer in the General Medical Practice Department, Dr. Awodele Abiola said, the establishment of the community-based general health care centre has not addressed

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