By Winnie Osika
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, everyone’s attention was on its socioeconomic impact and dealing with the disease itself. But one area that was left out until late was the psychosocial effect it had not only to the patients but also to their caregivers.
The disease comes with a lot of stigma, considering one has to be isolated from everybody else. It does not stop there, one has to use a separate bathroom, and the infected are not allowed to share common household items like cups, spoons or plates. For 14 days, they are enclosed in a room alone, with nothing but thoughts about their fate.
Towards this end, doctors and psychologists have seen a need to give psychosocial support to both the Covid-19 patients and their caregivers. This is because containment measures such as quarantine, physical distancing, movement restrictions have largely contributed to increased numbers in depression cases, self harm, alcohol and drug abuse and general mental fatigue.
In June 2020, Kenya’s Ministry of Health announced that it was providing mental health and psychosocial support strategies and measures which are critical in the short and long term response to Covid-19 pandemic.
“The stigma associated with the disease is one of the major causes of psychological distress. Healthcare workers and frontline workers are at high risk of stress and trauma-related disorders.
“The government is prioritizing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) through provision of these services to the general public, quarantined and hospitalized persons, healthcare workers, and high risk vulnerable populations,” said the Chief Administrative Secretary Health, Dr. Rashid Aman.
According to Impact Research and Development Organization (IRDO) study on mental health implications of Covid-19 in Kenya, the country could be looking at a second pandemic of mental health problems related to the pandemic.
Effects of Covid-19 such as loss of employment can worsen the mental health of the population. Such effects are more likely to remain long after the pandemic has waned, hence an urgent need to put in place measures to handle the mental health needs of the general population. However, there seems to be a gap in the mental health service provision in Kenya.
Kenya has a shortage of mental health professionals. Mathari Hospital is the country’s only mental referral facility where one nurse handles up to 150 patients. In a country with only approximately 100 psychiatrists serving a population of 45 million, only a third of the psychiatrists work in the government health facilities. The rest work in private health facilities that are generally more expensive, making them inaccessible to the majority of the population due to the unaffordable consultation fees. Additionally, only 0.05% of the Government’s health budget allocation goes to mental health.
With this dangerous gap, IRDO notes that there is an urgent need to prioritize mental health issues and services in Kenya to enable better handling of mental health issues associated with the future pandemics.