The role of mental and psychosocial services is not only relevant but crucial at a time when Uganda, like the rest of the world, races to restore and strengthen the health sector to better manage the shocks and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To manage the crisis, government continues to focus on medical healthcare to treat the high cases of new infections of Covid-19 and reduce the pandemic related deaths.
However, with the surge in cases of new infections of Covid-19 comes a lot of fear and anxiety which in a way has an impact on the mental and psychosocial wellbeing of many individuals. What this points to is a need to integrate mental and psychosocial services in the management of Covid-19 pandemic. This is true because mental health and psychosocial services are yet to receive that much needed de-prioritisation of health areas
The surge down in the social and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities is a true indicator of the shocks and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For refugees and communities within the post conflict areas, the effect is even gross as individuals continuously live in fear of contracting the virus which is worsened by the difficulties in the accessibility of quality health care..
Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) Uganda which also chairs the national Mental Health and Psychosocial working group has integrated psychological healing with economic support by empowering vulnerable communities through avenues such as the Village Savings and Loan Association groups to improve the economic wellbeing of the vulnerable communities.
What is even more exciting to note is that the post assessment of the mental health and psychosocial support of the beneficiaries has revealed a remarkable improvement in the general wellbeing at family level and general improvement in their mental health for matters related to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is therefore no doubt that such initiatives have worked a long way in offering psychosocial and emotional support to beneficiaries and the management of Covid-19 related effects.
And as the country waters down the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for mental health and psychosocial services cannot be watered down. This is true because the multiple factors related to Covid-19 have an eventual impact on people’s emotions and social support systems. Social isolation as part of the pandemic standard operating procedures is reported to be increasingly disrupting the social cohesion and systems. This is due to the widespread fear of being infected and/or dying from the virus and fear of losing livelihoods. Media has reported how many people who have lost their dear ones to the pandemic experience intense grief.
In fact, the impact is more gross for people in lower resourced and yet crowded settings where physical distancing is nearly impossible, health and other services are weak and livelihood opportunities reduced thereby culminating the already high prevalence of mental health conditions in these populations.
Even as individuals and communities continue to adhere to the lockdown and Covid-19 SOPs, there is a need to de-prioritize around the management of the pandemic to include key elements of mental health and psychological services.
These can be complimented by a scoop into the financial boost to empower individuals and communities to deal with the effects and aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Therefore, as the country continues to battle with the pandemic, development partners and government should integrate mental health and psychosocial support with financial empowerment by borrowing from the TPO Uganda model of using VSLA groups to stimulate growth and development.
The author, Mr Reagan Rwabambari is the project manager for USAID supported project in Northern Uganda – TPO UGANDA