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Family protests over autistic son’s continued institutionalisation at Athalassa

The labour ministry

The Cyprus Autism Association on Tuesday protested against the continued institutionalisation people with autism in the Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital.

Demonstrating in front of the labour ministry, the association demanded the de-institutionalisation of 37-year-old Constantinos Constantinou who suffers from autism and was moved to “an inappropriate ward” in the hospital in April when another wing of the hospital, wing 14 was closed. At the time, some disabled persons were de-institutionalised whereas others, like Constantinou, were transferred to the psychiatric wing.

According to the association, Constantinou’s rights under the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities have been violated. The convention defines the right of every person with disabilities to live in the community on an equal basis.

“The absence of other structures of a European Cyprus in 2016 leaves people with mental retardation and autism in the most inappropriate rooms of the Athalassa Hospital,” Constantinou’s sister Maria said. “These rooms are reminiscent of dungeons with a strong stench, damaged walls, worn floors, worn furniture; and no one is interested in improving the place.”

She attributed the de-institutionalisation of her brother to the “rigid attitude” of the department of social integration of persons with disabilities, which is under the labour ministry.

The family of the 37-year-old have, according to his sister, preliminary advice from the Ombudsman’s office and the human rights commission which states that a maximum effort should be made for de-institutionalisation and they also have a relevant recommendation from a physician.

“We made many attempts, and sent a letter on April 19 to the minister as a family to consider our issue and since then we did not get any response,” she said.

Member of the board of directors of the autism association Maria Kleanthous said that along with Constantinou there are about ten other people with mental disabilities still in the hospital.

“There should be suitable shelters in communities where these people can be accommodated,” she noted, adding that these facilities are not being created due to financial reasons.

Kleanthous said the meeting she had in the morning with the director of the social integration department did not have a satisfactory outcome and that the association has asked to see the minister.

“Some people have been moved to the worst conditions and the state must support these individuals and their families,” AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma commented.

“The labour ministry still considers money for people with autism as a waste of money. “Panayiotis Savvides, Director of Economic Affairs of the Citizens Alliance and father of two children with autism, said.

He talked about the personal responsibility of both the minister and the directors of the ministry’s departments “who are completely unaware of the issues relevant to people with autism and generally people with mental disabilities” and the lack of cooperation between the ministry and organisations.

The labour ministry said it was surprised that people were complaining after years of calling for the closure of wing 14 and the de-institutionalisation of its occupants but it said life outside of the hospital was not feasible for everyone.

There was, it said, a new family-friendly institution which houses eight people with the support of mental health nurses, an occupational therapist and carers. “It is therefore with surprise that the ministry monitors the negative statements made by those who know of the many years of efforts to close wing 14 which this year has come to pass,” a statement said.

But there were still people Inside the Athalassa Hospital with multiple disabilities and serious behavioural disorders who would need not only adequate housing, but the necessary support services to ensure they had a comfortable existence, and that would include treatment, care, education, entertainment, socialisation and rehabilitation, it added. “These services require a team of experts with psychiatrists, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, occupational therapists and caregivers,” the statement said.

“We know that the ministry of health and the mental health services which have the responsibility for Athalassa Hospital are undertaking the necessary measures to improve living conditions in the hospital and as they have informed us that actions already taken have improved the situation for people with mental disabilities or autism.”

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