Covid disrupts mental health funding

Thursday, November 12th, 2020 00:00 |
A resident of Biafra estate in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area undergoes Covid testing, last year. Photo/PD/File

Mental health services in Kenya and other 28 African countries have witnessed dwindling or disrupted funding in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, a survey by World Health Organisation (WHO) shows.

Ironically, demand for mental health services has been rising during the negative effects of coronavirus such as job losses, domestic violence and worsening finances among households.

Of the 28 countries surveyed, 37 per cent reported that their Covid-19 mental health response plans are partially funded and a further 37 per cent reported having no funds at all.

This dire situation comes as the Covid-19 pandemic increases demand for mental health services.

“Isolation, loss of income, the deaths of loved ones and a barrage of information on the dangers of this new virus can stir up stress levels and trigger mental health conditions or exacerbate existing ones,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in a press release.

According to Dr Moeti, the pandemic has shown, more than ever, how mental health is integral to health and well-being and must be an essential part of health services during outbreaks and emergencies.

African countries account for 15 of the top 30 countries globally for suicide per 100,000 people.

According to a report released early this year by the Dr Frank Njenga-led Mental Health Taskforce, it is estimated that one in every 10 people suffer from a common mental disorder in Kenya.

 The number increases to one in every four people among patients attending routine outpatient services.

Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders.

Mental health taskforce

One recent study in South Africa found that 10–20 per cent of the 220 people surveyed reported potent experiences of anxiety and fear as a result of the pandemic. Another survey of 12,000 women in low-income communities in Uganda and Zambia found an increase in persistent stress, anxiety and depression.

According to WHO, substance use disorder services were the mental health services facing the biggest disruptions.

The main causes for the disruptions were due to patients failing to turn up, travel restrictions hindering access to health facilities and a decrease in patient volume due to cancellations of elective care.

While at the global level, up to 70 per cent of countries have responded to the challenges posed by Covid-19 with telemedicine, in Africa governments have set up counselling helplines and increased training for key health responders in basic psychosocial skills.

Even before the pandemic, the region had one of the lowest mental health public expenditure rates, at less than Sh10 per capita.

With increasing pressure on health systems and rising demand, stretched and chronically underfunded mental health services are under increasing strain.

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