Man abandoned in hospital for 23 years still waiting for relatives

Sylvester Onyango, 48 a patient who has been in the ward at Kisumu County hospital, then District hospital for twenty three years after he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. He comes from Kendubay. (Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)
Sylvester Onyango sits outside Kisumu County Hospital’s psychiatric ward every morning to bask in the sun.

Nurses say Mr Onyango never fails to take his daily walks in the expansive hospital corridors, often stopping to chat with the workers, whom he knows by name which does not come as a surprise since he has been a patient for 23 years

The man was first taken to the facility by a good Samaritan in 1995.

Hospital records indicate he was suffering from temporary lobe epilepsy and exhibited psychotic symptoms. He was admitted to Ward 8 which he now calls home.

When the Sunday Standard visited the ward, Onyango was seated at the entrance, dressed in a purple hospital uniform.

With a slight bow and smile he stretched out his hand to greet anyone who passed by.

“Are you from home. How is home?” he would ask.

Eunice Gor, a social worker at the hospital says Onyango talks a lot about his past.

Ever since he was admitted to the hospital aged 25, he has never stopped asking about his mother and siblings.

He also talks about his father who he says is dead, while the mother is a business woman in Kendu Bay.

“He tells medics that before he came to hospital, he was helping his brother sell charcoal and cooking pans at the market centre,” she says.


Onyango is among the rising number of patients who are abandoned in Kenya’s mental health facilities.

Maurice Odhiambo, the nurse in-charge of the ward says cases of families abandoning their kin as soon they are diagnosed with mental illness are common.

Mr Odhiambo talks of a Tanzanian man who was admitted under the name Maria Fomila, ten years ago.

Efforts have been made to reach out to his relatives, but no one has showed up.  

Medics believe the patients are abandoned because of association of mental illness with curses. “The stigma is too much. Families prefer bringing them to the hospital and leaving them here,” said a nurse. 

The prevalence of mental illness in Nyanza region is alarming.

One out of every 10 people (10.8 per cent) has a mental illness, according to a study published in the medical journal PubMed, in December 2015.

Gor says people with mental illness in the region are exposed to malnutrition, drug abuse, violence and homelessness.

“Stigma against people with mental illness has become a public health problem with reasons ranging from lack of awareness and understanding of the illness,” she said.

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