As seen elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa has created an urgent need for an isolated space in which to manage patients with COVID-19. In high-income countries such as China, the UK, and the USA, standalone units were built to cater for the extra isolation space required to manage a surge in COVID-19 confirmed cases. In much of Africa, building such units was not possible because of financial, infrastructural, and human resource constraints.

Mental health units that conventionally stand alone, far from other health services, were deemed appropriate for the isolation of patients with COVID-19. In Uganda, the only national referral inpatient mental health unit (Butabika Hospital, Kampala, Uganda) has only 638 inpatient psychiatric beds for a population of almost 50 million people. Between Jan 1 and Dec 31, 2018, the bed occupancy rate of Butabika Hospital was 149%.

Even with such a high demand for beds in Butabika Hospital, lower level regional psychiatric units were converted into isolation units for COVID-19…more