Acting Director General, Dr Patrick Amoth says public health and humanitarian emergencies have had tremendous impact on the mental health of populations worldwide, and more so in the East African region.
The DG noted that social and psychological effects of emergencies are experienced at individual, family, community, society and at all levels. He pointed out that some degree of mental or emotional distress is evident and contributes to worsening of existing mental illness or substance use problems.
“In our region, this situation is worsened by the disruption of little services on offer for mental, neurological and substance use disorders which was evident during the COVID 19 pandemic,” he added.
Dr Amoth made the remarks when he officially opened a week long regional (East Africa) workshop to strengthen Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) integration into national emergency preparedness and response plans at a Nairobi hotel yesterday.
The workshop is organised by Africa Centre for Disease Control in collaboration with the Regional Coordinating Center (RCC) for the Eastern Africa Region.
Participants are drawn from Africa CDC, mental health focal persons from the 14 Member States in the Eastern Africa region, emergency preparedness and response focal persons/Incident managers from the 14 member States as well WHO, IGAD, EAC, UNICEF, UNHCR among others.
Dr Amoth further told the meeting that a public health model is critical to address the short and long term mental health as well as psychosocial consequences of COVID-19 including other emergencies.
He noted that this model requires an integrated approach whereby an individual is seen with consideration of all aspects that play a role on their wellbeing. This includes the physical aspect in terms of the body; psychological aspect in terms of emotional state; and the social aspect in relation to their community, environment, culture and religion.
Dr Amoth pointed out that in order to ensure mental health and psychosocial wellness especially during public health emergencies, the need to give due regard to among other issues, involving communities before, during and after the emergency.
He also noted there was need to ensure a coordinated, orderly response by the government and other stakeholders, with emphasis on inter-institutional cooperation and community involvement.
The DG further said other measures would include integrating mental health and psychosocial interventions within the framework of public health and investing in an adequate risk communication strategy to helping establish a calm and orderly climate.
He pointed out that there was need to invest in the training and supervision of frontline workers to provide psychosocial support and mental health care.
He also noted that it was critical improving the care of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, affected children, persons with chronic conditions, frontline workers, persons living with disabilities and persons with mental health conditions.
He further emphasised on the need to design mental health and psychosocial intervention strategies that take into account the medium and long-term effects of emergency situations.
He noted that it was for this reason that the Ministry of Health has actively placed mental health and psychosocial support as a key stand-alone pillar in the National COVID-19 response and recently in National Ebola Preparedness and Response.
He noted that this pillar encompassed a number of interventions including, stakeholder analysis, mapping and engagement; multi-sectoral collaboration as well as partnerships and resource mapping. Other areas include development and dissemination of MHPSS guidelines, tools, Capacity building of frontline workers on MHPSS; Public education and awareness on MHPSS through TV, Radio, Community/social halls and social media.
The pilar further has Provision of MHPSS services to vulnerable groups, healthcare workers and general population as well as Monitoring and evaluation of MHPSS activities amongst many others.
Dr Amoth said the Ministry of Health appreciates the efforts made by Africa CDC to build the technical expertise of the region on provision of mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies and humanitarian settings.