Mukono, 14th November 2018- One of the severe yet often neglected consequences of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is long-term mental health and psychosocial problems that affect health workers, family members, recovered patients and generally people involved in response activities.
Very often these categories of people suffer from intense distress, anxiety, depression and in the case of recovered patients, rejection and stigmatization by family and community. In many instances, this has resulted in severe sickness and even death of those affected. In fact, in Uganda, some health workers affected by fear and anxiety in the preparatory phase of EVD have already received psychosocial support services.
As Uganda continues to prepare for the highly likely importation of EVD from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), health authorities have decided to train and strategically position psychosocial teams at national and district levels to deal with these problems when they arise. Preparatory activities in this area started with the revision of the training guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial support (MHPSS) for Ebola preparedness by the Ministry of Health (MoH) supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The review was followed by the orientation of national teams on the guidelines. The national trainers are expected to cascade the training in the five high-risk districts bordering DRC where they will in turn train primary and community health workers. This will enable the district teams to provide mental health and psychosocial support to survivors of directly affected families, including orphans and spouses, frontline health workers and community leaders as the need may be.
The trained teams will also be able to assess and manage patients that suffer from anxiety, depression, stigmatization and other mental and psychological effects related to Ebola. In that case, community health care workers will be equipped with skills to provide psychosocial support through assessments, provision of emotional support, stress management, referral of patients and raising community awareness and support for psychosocial health services.
As district and community leaders are central to EVD preparedness and response activities, the Ministry of Health is reaching out to them so that they fully understand and support this critical intervention. Luckily the MHPSS guidelines have a section on how this can be properly planned, implemented and adequately achieved.
Apart from mental health and psychosocial support, the MoH, WHO and partners are implementing other preparedness activities including health facility and community-based surveillance, cross-border surveillance, sample collection and testing and ensuring that Ebola Treatment Units are ready to receive EVD patients.