Offer psycho-social support for health workers in Covid fight

Friday December 04 2020

Since the confirmation of the first Covid-19 case in March, more than 900 health workers are said to have contracted Covid-19 in Uganda. The Covid-19 pandemic has been associated with high levels of psychological and mental distress. Studies in China found high prevalence (53 per cent) of psychological distress among health workers. Healthworkers are a key pillar in the healthcare system, and psychological and mental distress impact their effectiveness.

Health workers take care of the sick, but they too need care. So we conducted a survey in the regional hospitals of Arua, Entebbe, Hoima, and Mbale as well as Mulago National Referral Hospital to assess the healthcare systems’ support for psychosocial preparedness and needs of healthcare professionals providing essential care for people with Covid-19 in Uganda between August and September.

Among the participants, 272 (68 per cent) were nurses, 16.3per cent were medical doctors, and nearly half (48.9 per cent) were working in the Covid-19 treatment units. The study revealed high levels of psychological distress (47 per cent), anxiety (44 per cent), stress (22 per cent), and depression (31 per cent) symptoms that varied from one hospital to another.

Health workers reported being worried to contract Covid-19 (77 per cent) or infect their relatives (70 per cent). The demand for psychological counselling was as high as 52 per cent reported to have occasionally or sometimes felt the need to visit a psychologist.

Despite all hospitals reporting having psycho-social support services, only 60 per cent of health workers concurred, and 54 per cent reporting it would be difficult to obtain the service when needed. The study also revealed that the level of preparedness by health workers was not optimal with 160 (40 per cent) of health workers perceiving themselves as not prepared to take care of Covid-19 patients, and varies by hospital.

The major psychosocial support health workers need is in regard to stigma, fear, and worry for self and family. Others are symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and psychological distress.  Low-level of perceived preparedness is associated with high prevalence of symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and anxiety among health workers. The demand for psychological counselling is high among health workers.


Therefore, there is need to assess the preparedness of health workers. Interventions should be deliberate and extended to members of their families.  Hospital-based interventions should consider occasion screening health workers for symptoms of psychological and mental distress.

Besides, health facilities should provide designated clinic for health workers. They should also review their staffing structure to accommodate a clinical psychologist.  

Richard Muhindo,