World Health Organisation Africa it has commenced moves to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, first female WHO Regional Director for Africa, disclosed this at a virtual press briefing to commemorate the World Mental Health Day.
Stressing the need for governments in the region to pay more attention to mental health related issues, Moeti said, “government expenditure per capita on mental health is low globally; 2 dollars 50 cents per person, in Africa, it drops to 10 cents per capita”. According to her, 27 of the 28 African countries that responded to a global survey conducted by WHO indicated mental health and psycho-social support was included in their national COVID-19 response but only 17 had funding either from government or from partners for the planned activities. “This reaffirms the importance of increasing investment in mental health, and building the realization of its importance and it’s place in priorities in decision-making”, she said.
To further buttress her point, she noted that most mental health services are paid for directly by patients and their caregivers, which “causes financially hardships particularly for low income households and other vulnerable groups.”
On efforts by WHO to combat this challenge, Dr. Moeti, said, “countries are including mental health care in emerging national health insurance schemes and now work is on the way to define the costing of essential mental health care packages and services at different levels of care.
Referencing reports by Human Right Watch on the stigma mental health patients face, she noted that WHO quality rise initiative, already implemented in Ghana and Kenya, was created for such issues.
The initiative, she noted, improves the quality of community based care, create community led initiative, and tax sharing with nurses and technicians. These programs also includes “the friendship bench” that started in Zimbabwe and have now spread to other parts of the world, which “provides training to older women to talk to and support people in need of problem solving therapies on park benches or public spaces where people can come and have conversations with an older, supportive, trained community member”.
In addition, she said WHO is working with governments “to review mental health legislations and related policies and to build capacities among primary health care workers as well as providing psycho-social skills training for fast-responders on the COVID-19.”
In response to The News Beam‘s question on provisions put in place as supports for front-line health workers who are working tirelessly during this pandemic, she said “I must commend the WHO psycho-social guide that as been produced for front-line health care workers, this is something that health care industries in private and in public can particularly take it up and make it mandatory for them to actually undergo that training for psychological first aid within practice, this will actually help with self-care for health care workers as they go out to provide services”
Moeti also shared keys steps to improve mental health and implored Africans to find ways to “leverage the community spirit that as been so richly generated by COVID-19, even in the context of separation”. She urged Africans to remain vigilant and play their parts in curtailing the spread of the virus by keeping a distance, wearing masks, and frequently washing of hands especially as schools and borders reopening.