Dr Alexandre Tiendrebego, an official of World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised African countries to put in place a coordination platform for mental health and psychosocial support with participation of Ministry of Health.
Tiendrebego, acting Director, Communicable and Non-Communicable Disease Cluster, WHO, Regional Office for Africa, said this while reacting to a new WHO survey on mental health.
The survey of 28 African countries was undertaken as part of the first global examination of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services.
It underscores the urgent need for increased funding.
And of the countries responding in the African region, 37 per cent reported that their COVID-19 mental health response plans were partially funded and a further 37 per cent reported having no funds at all.
In a video posted on its official Twitter account @WHOAFRO, Tiendrebego emphasised that all countries on the continent should form a platform for mental health, with participation of Ministry of Health as mandatory condition.
The director said all countries should also mobilise domestic funding to support mental health services and psychosocial support.
He added that the survey recommended that the regional level should also support mental health in country by promoting integration of mental health into primary healthcare toward achieving Universal Health Coverage.
Tiendrebego said COVID-19 had impacted on mental health of people and health workers.
He noted that “many health workers were affected and were stressed. Furthermore, woman of low income were questioned on this impact and most of them said they were feeling poorer.
“They said they were facing domestic struggle and Gender-Based Violence in their families.”
In addition, the official said part of findings of the survey showed that out-patient and in-patient service for mental health was maintained in all facilities
Meanwhile in a statement posted on its website, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said deaths of loved ones to COVID-19 could trigger mental health condition.
She said “isolation, loss of income and a barrage of information on the dangers of this new virus can stir up stress levels and trigger mental health conditions or exacerbate existing ones.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, more than ever, how mental health is integral to health and well-being and must be an essential part of health services during outbreaks and emergencies.”
According to her, African countries account for 15 of the top 30 countries globally for suicide per 100,000 people.
She noted that while there was scanty data on how COVID-19 increased mental health conditions on the African continent, some studies showed that the pandemic increased stress and fear.
“One study in South Africa found that 10 –20 per cent of the 220 people surveyed reported potent experiences of anxiety and fear as a result of the pandemic.
“Another survey of 12,000 women in low-income communities in Uganda and Zambia found an increase in persistent stress, anxiety and depression.’’
The WHO assessment of mental health services took place in July and August 2020 and 27 of the 28 African nations responded.
The countries that responded included mental health in their COVID-19 response plans, underscoring the growing recognition of the importance of this once neglected area of health.
In Africa, substance use disorder services were the mental health services facing the biggest disruptions.
The causes of the disruptions were patients’ inability to turn up, travel restrictions hindering access to health facilities and a decrease in patients’ volume due to cancellation of elective care.