Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in times of COVID-19

In January 2020, the new programme Dutch Surge Support for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) started. MHPSS provides quick response in mental health and psychosocial support. Experts help during armed conflicts, violence, natural disasters, and refugee and migration emergencies. Despite the COVID-19 situation and worldwide lockdowns, expert Teresa Yamo Ombalo travelled from Kenya to Ethiopia to help. In the coming period, we will follow Teresa in her work for MHPSS.

My name is Teresa

Hi, nice to meet you. I am Teresa from Kenya. When the World Health Organization (WHO) asked me to work for MHPSS, I said yes. I was lucky to catch the last flight to Addis Ababa. Soon after my flight, the Kenyan government implemented travel restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19. Flying was no longer an option, but I was already in Addis Ababa.

I am responsible and accountable for the coordination of the MHPSS Technical Working Group activities at country level. I work together with humanitarian clusters and MHPSS actors, governments, donors, universities, religious institutions and international organisations.

Mandatory quarantine

The first thing I want to do after my arrival is to get to work. But I have to stay in quarantine for 14 days. I have never been in this situation before. I am not allowed to step out of my room. Nurses come in every day to check my temperature and ask about any of the signs of the virus. The hotel staff bring me food, and this is the only form of human interaction. You can tell that the hotel staff are cautious, and they should be, as they do not know whether we have the virus or not. I have not seen my colleagues physically. But thankfully, because of technology, I talk to them on Skype and WhatsApp.

COVID-19 response

Like many other countries, Ethiopia is practising social distancing. The government has ordered civil servants to work from home to reduce a further outbreak. Many organisations follow these orders.

Before I arrived in Addis Ababa, I joined an MHPSS WEBEX coordination meeting streamed from Addis Ababa. Immediately, it was clear that I had a lot of work waiting for me. Not only in the coordination of the working group on its day to day activities but also the COVID-19 response. I have so far supported in developing the MHPSS Action plan for COVID-19.

In the coming days, I have scheduled online meetings on ZOOM and WEBEX. As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ethiopia and all over the world, meeting online will be the new normal for a while.

Challenges

Emergencies are stressful, and Ethiopia certainly has had its share.

Challenges with ethnic conflicts have forced over 2 million people out of their homes. Challenges with the hosting of refugees in different parts of the country have caused stress. Combine these challenges with the challenge of facing COVID-19, and you see my worries.

Ethiopia does not need the risks of infections or the risk of infecting others. This country can do without severe intense stress, a risk for long-term mental and psychological problems. Quarantine of individuals exposed to the virus is a further risk for psychosocial problems. There may be a breakdown of the community support systems. Will persons affected by COVID-19 be discriminated against by means of a social stigma? Healthcare workers and other first responders may experience more stressors. For example long work hours, lack of protective equipment, and discrimination for working with patients with COVID-19. I feel privileged to be here to support the work of the MHPSS. It is important to minimise the effects of not only COVID-19 but also other stressors that face this country.

More information about MHPSS: www.drrteam-dsswater.nl/mhpss/ and www.MHPSS2019.nl.

More about Teresa Yamo Ombalo

Teresa is an experienced MHPSS expert from Kenya. She works as a Technical Working Group Coordinator in Addis Ababa in support of the World Health Organization (WHO). Her work is to coordinate the MHPSS agencies, map MHPSS activities, share best practices, and build capacities of MHPSS actors and partners in other priority clusters that support the development of MHPSS policies. She also strengthens advocacy initiatives with the Government of Ethiopia, the humanitarian community and donors.

30 Mar 2020|