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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Issues 

Mexico's Weakest Still Treated as 'Subhuman'
email this pageprint this pageemail usDudley Althaus - Houston Chronicle
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December 01, 2010



Mexico City — Investigators visiting hospitals, asylums and orphanages across this country over the past year found patients tied to wheelchairs and beds, lying in their own feces and urine, and left unattended by overworked or uninterested caregivers, a scathing report released Tuesday charges.

The study by Disability Rights International of Washington and a leading Mexican human rights group found thousands of disabled patients across the country live largely untreated in understaffed, unclean and underfunded public and private institutions.

In many cases, the report charges, administrators know neither the names and ages nor particular disabilities of children left in their charge.

Many disabled children in orphanages never are adopted or otherwise integrated into society, spending their entire lives institutionalized. Some reportedly never are seen again.

Lobotomies — the removal of brain tissue to control behavior that was abandoned as ineffective and often incapacitating in much of the world a half-century ago — still sometimes is practiced at some Mexican institutions, the study found.

It largely concludes the country has failed to fulfill a decadelong promise to improve squalid conditions for institutionalized children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.

“There is torture going on in Mexican institutions and it must be brought to an immediate end,” Eric Rosenthal, the director of Disability Rights International said in a news conference in Mexico City. “It is inhuman — it is subhuman — what we have seen in these institutions.”

Mexican authorities couldn't be reached for comment.

Following a similar report in 2000, abashed Mexican officials vowed to dramatically improve living conditions and treatment for the country's disabled. Mexico was an early sponsor and signer of a 2006 United Nations convention guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities.

Over the last year, investigators again visited 20 institutions.

Yet conditions for the institutionalized disabled had improved little, if at all, the advocates say. And the few improvements documented by the study have been to facilities rather than treatment or efforts to improve patients lives, advocates say.

“It's as if time stood still in these institutions,” Rosenthal said. “Mexico will have to answer in Geneva before United Nations authorities for what we have documented.”

The groups said they had little idea of the number of institutionalized disabled people in Mexico because the government hasn't counted them. As many as 3 percent of people worldwide are estimated to suffer from severe handicaps.

The severely disabled not living with their families are tended to by federal, state and local government agencies as well as private aid groups. Government agencies often pay private institutions to care for patients. Many of those institutions are overwhelmed by the number of patients and have staffs not trained or equipped for the tasks, advocates said.

“The workers who are tending to the patients daily are not the guilty ones,” said Juan Carlos Gutierrez, director of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, which co-sponsored the report. “Our job is to demand public policies to improve the situation.”

While facilities need urgent improvements, Mexican policy needs to focus more on integrating the disabled into society rather them shutting them away in institutions, Rosenthal said. For instance, money needs to target low income families wanting to care for a disabled loved one, he said.

“I don't blame the families,” Rosenthal said. “It's the poor people who get dumped in these facilities.”



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