Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in times of COVID-19: Dora Rebelo reports from South Sudan

In February 2020, Dora Rebelo was the first expert to be deployed via the DSS MHPSS programme. Her task was to coordinate the MHPSS Technical Working Group (TWG) in South Sudan for 3 months. Midway through her assignment, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Dora to leave South Sudan. She had to continue her work from her home in Portugal. It was not always easy to work from a distance. But Dora continued to assist the working group. She helped with online training sessions and materials to strengthen the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dora: “The years of civil war and violence have resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, the youngest nation on earth. Mass displacement, economic decline, health problems, political instability and natural disasters have damaged the social and the psychosocial well-being of South Sudanese people. The yearly Humanitarian Needs Overview (OCHA, 2019) foresees mental health disorders in about 2.5 million people; 1 in 5 South Sudanese people will be affected by it. In contrast, the current humanitarian out-reach is less than 10,000 persons per year (1%). The low resources allocated to mental health services and the lack of specialised staff limit the ability to reach people in need. MHPSS services are not available, not accessible or not sufficient in many locations. So, it is crucial to improve the quality and sustainability of MHPSS interventions. MHPSS needs strong mainstreaming and support from all clusters and humanitarian partners.

This is what I have done

In February 2020, I joined the first mission of the new DSS MHPSS programme in South Sudan. It was my job to coordinate the MHPSS Technical Working Group (TWG). The TWG is a national think-tank that strengthens and improves the quality of mental health and psychosocial interventions. Working alongside committed and skilled MHPSS professionals, I saw the benefits of working together and sharing knowledge. For example, the guidance notes on safe and dignifying burial practices that I produced was very helpful for all partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. The TWG joined forces, found creative solutions for challenging problems, and reinforced MHPSS services. I am hopeful that this is the start of a successful pathway into stronger and more sustainable MHPSS services.”

20 Jul 2020|