Police in Kenya were on Monday night hunting for more than 30 patients after a mass breakout from a psychiatric hospital in the capital, Nairobi.
The patients – some of whom are reported to be violent – were being treated at the Mathari Mental Hospital, the only public facility of its kind in Kenya, when they overwhelmed the guards and escaped on Sunday evening.
The escape followed a protest by patients who were complaining that the medicine they were receiving was ineffective. Kenyan police spokesman Moses Ombati said the protesters had overpowered guards and broken through the padlocked gate.
Nine of the 40 who fled were returned yesterday, some of them brought back by their families. An undisclosed number of the people being treated at Mathari were referred there after committing serious crimes. Police said they had pictures of the remaining escapees and were confident of finding them.
Rights groups demanded an investigation at the facility two years ago after a television crew filmed one inmate locked in a cell with a dead body. Patients have complained of being heavily sedated and being left in overcrowded cells. Sexual abuse is claimed to be rife.
Mathari’s grisly reputation began during the colonial era, when the former smallpox-quarantine unit was turned into the Nairobi asylum. It was run by a Briton called James Cobb who claimed to be a friend of the Royal Family.
A scandal emerged two years ago in another publicly run hospital in the Kenyan capital when mothers unable to pay for the delivery of their babies were being locked in a ward until relatives cleared their bills.