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Mexico in Debt to the Disabled

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Sep 9 2010 (IPS) - Ángel Valencia was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Mexico four years ago with a bipolar disorder. Today, after treatment, he is back in society and is an activist with the Washington-based organisation Disability Rights International.

But Valencia’s success story is an exception in this country in terms of care for people with mental disorders, an issue that a broad coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) included in a harshly critical shadow report on Mexico’s fulfilment of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The convention has not led to changes in Mexico. Laws should have been changed and access to services guaranteed, but that has not happened,” Federico Fleischmann, the head of Libre Acceso, an NGO promoting rights and opportunities for people with disabilities, told IPS.

The convention came into effect in 2008, and in May this year the Mexican state should have sent its official report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which monitors implementation of this international instrument. It has not yet done so, although it is hoped that it will submit a report by the end of the year.

This Latin American country with a population of over 107 million has at least 10 million people with disabilities. Of these, 53 percent suffer from motor disorders, 20 percent have diminished intellectual capacity, 18 percent are hearing impaired and the rest are visually impaired, according to figures from the Mexican Confederation of Organisations for Persons with Intellectual Disability (CONFE).

Some four million people are exposed to discrimination because of disability, according to Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission.

Psychosocial disability has been added to the classification, as a category covering illnesses like schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar, obsessive-compulsive and borderline personality disorders.

At least 15 million people in Mexico have some kind of mental disorder, according to the Public Health Ministry, including 500,000 people who suffer from schizophrenia.

The 31 state psychiatric hospitals have an in-patient population of 7,000.

“The civil society report provides a big picture perspective of the situation, pointing out the shortcomings, gaps and legal irregularities that contravene international human rights law,” activist Ana Yeli Pérez, of the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), a local NGO, told IPS.

For the first time in Mexico, organisations of people with disabilities and human rights groups have joined forces to study and document the status of disabled people’s rights. More than 100 NGOs worked on the drafting of the report, and will cooperate to distribute its results.

“Laws related to work, education, and healthcare should have been reformed, but none of that has happened. We hope the state will fulfil its obligation to present an official report,” said Fleischmann, who gets around in a motorised wheelchair.

The General Law on Persons with Disability has been in force since 2005, and last year the government presented its National Programme for the Development of Persons with Disability 2009-2012 (PRONADIS).

The programme consists of nine goals to harmonise public policies in regard to education, health and sport, as well as the legal framework related to disability; reduce discrimination; and guarantee access to places, goods and services.

To produce their alternative report, the civil society organisations carried out a nationwide survey on the state of the disabled population. In addition, the census taken by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography this May and June included four questions on the issue.

The appalling conditions at psychiatric hospitals have shocked Mexican and foreign NGOs. In 2000, Disability Rights International published a study titled “Human Rights and Mental Health: Mexico”, which describes the problems.

Physical restraint, dehumanising treatment, badly deteriorated infrastructure and lack of qualified staff summed up the findings of a 2008 study by the National Human Rights Commission in six of the seven federally administered hospitals.

“No more psychiatric hospitals should be built in the country; psychiatric care should be decentralised so that it is given at every clinic and health centre,” Valencia said.

In colonial times, Mexico was one of the first territories in Latin America to have a facility for the care of the mentally ill, the San Hipólito Hospital, founded by the Spaniard Bernardino Álvarez in 1556.

“Putting people in psychiatric wards is a violation of all their rights, because they do not receive rehabilitation and have no access to healthcare,” Pérez stressed.

Conditions in these hospitals were exposed in the 2007 book “Los manicomios del poder: corrupción y tráfico de influencias en el sector salud” (The Asylums of Power: Corruption and influence peddling in the health sector) by journalist Jaime Avilés.

In fact a Mexican, Carlos Ríos, was elected to the 17-member U.N. Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities for 2011-2014, at the Third Conference of States Party to the Convention, held Sept. 1-3 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

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