Bulgaria: New report shows mentally disabled patients at risk

The report also highlights the care homes’ lack of medical and psychiatric care, poor living conditions, inadequate staffing and the failure to provide activities, therapies or opportunities for reintegration into the community.

The report examines the former residents of the Dragash Voyvoda care home. Amnesty International’s delegates first visited Dragash Voyvoda in January 2002 and established that in 2001 one in five residents in this social care home, which held around 140 men, died apparently as a result of poor living conditions, inadequate medical treatment and care.

Residents were transferred to other care homes by 2003. Although material conditions had slightly improved, none of the institutions provided appropriate care, including medical care. The men continue to be exposed to a considerable risk of physical and mental abuse.

At least two men died as a result of inadequate safeguards to protect residents of social care homes from abuse.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

"The fundamental rights of these people are being neglected. There is a clear need to improve conditions and staffing to protect patients from abuse."

The placement of former residents of Dragash Voyvoda and their current situation in social care homes illustrates the Bulgarian authorities’ failure to appropriately and effectively address the needs of the vast majority of people with mental disabilities.

Moreover, the authorities have failed to put in place rules and procedures that would ensure that users of social care services are effectively protected from abuse. For example, there is still no independent mechanism that would promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate abuse incidents in order to minimise the possibility of any similar abuse occurring in the future.

In September 2004 Amnesty International wrote to Christina Christova, Minister of Labour and Social Policy, informing her of the organisation’s findings and concerns following visits in June 2004 to 12 social care homes. No reply from Minister Christova had been received at the time of publication of this report.

Amnesty International continues to work for an effective protection of rights of people with mental disabilities in Bulgaria and to campaign for their full reintegration into society in line with international human rights standards and best professional practice.

A full copy of the report, with pictures, is available from the Amnesty International UK press office.

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