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Gov’t positions mental health as key in disaster management

The government has put in place adequate measures to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support by integrating them into the national emergency preparedness and response plans.

Director General for Health Dr Patrick Amoth said that public health and humanitarian emergencies have had tremendous impact on the mental health of populations worldwide and especially in the Horn of Africa.

He explained that the Ministry of Health has actively placed mental health and psychosocial support as a key stand-alone pillar in the National Covid-19 response and recently in National Ebola preparedness and response.

Dr Amoth noted that this pillar encompasses a number of interventions including stakeholder analysis, mapping and engagement, multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships and resource mapping, development and dissemination of guidelines, capacity building of frontline workers, public education and awareness through TV, radio, community and social halls and social media amongst many others.

Dr Amoth explained that the social and psychological effects of emergencies are experienced at individual, family, community and society levels, and at all levels, some degree of mental or emotional distress is evident and contributes to worsening of existing mental illness or substance use problems.

Speaking in Nairobi on Monday during the East Africa regional workshop to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support, Dr Amoth said that in our region, the situation is worsened by the disruption of little services on offer for mental, neurological and substance use disorders which was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A public health model is therefore critical to address the short- and long-term mental health and psychosocial consequences of Covid-19 as well as other emergencies. This model requires an integrated approach whereby an individual is seen with consideration of all aspects that play a role in their wellbeing, from the physical aspect in terms of the body; psychological aspect in terms of emotional state; and the social aspect in relation to their community, environment, culture and religion,” he said.

He added that in order to ensure mental health and psychosocial wellness especially during public health emergencies, stakeholders must give due regard to the need for involving communities before, during and after the emergency.

“Ensuring a coordinated, orderly response by the government and other stakeholders, with emphasis on inter-institutional cooperation and community involvement is key. Of great importance also is integrating mental health and psychosocial interventions within the framework of public health. Investing in an adequate risk communication strategy is essential to helping establish a calm, orderly climate,” explained Dr Amoth.

He said there is need to invest in the training and supervision of frontline workers to provide psychosocial support and mental health care.

The director general added that it is also important to improve the care of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, affected children, persons with chronic conditions, frontline workers, persons living with disabilities and persons with mental health conditions.

“We appreciate the efforts made by Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in building the technical expertise of the region on provision of mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies and humanitarian settings. We cannot overlook the vital role of governments, stakeholders, partners, and society at large as we work together towards a mentally healthy African population,” said Dr. Amoth.

By Joseph Ng’ang’a

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