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Pandemic increases need for psychological support

Pandemic increases need for psychological support

Niël Terblanché

 

THE psychological effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on the mental health of Namibians as it is as indivisible as the virus and goes unreported in most cases.

 

The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr. Kalumbi Shangula during an address to the National Assembly said the need for psychological support and counseling for patients and their families is growing exponentially, along with the number of deaths currently reported in the country.

 

He called on all stakeholders such as religious leaders, counsellors, psychologists, and social workers to avail their skills and services to provide the necessary support.

 

“This is particularly so after diagnosis and more especially in cases where patients succumb to the disease, and families require bereavement counseling. Our Health Care Workers and other frontline staff are not spared. Hence, the Ministry is calling upon all stakeholders, including religious leaders, Counsellors, Psychologists, and Social Workers to avail their services and provide support to those in need,” he said.

 

The health minister in his address to Parliament again highlighted the strain the current high rate of COVID-19 deaths has put on the country’s mortuary facilities that are forced not only to deal with an increased number of bodies but also have to accommodate dead bodies that have been in freezer rooms for more than five years.

 

“For this reason, the Ministry has advised families to ensure speedy burial of their loved ones in order to decongest the mortuaries. Provisions of the law will be enforced with respect to families who fail to collect bodies of their loved ones from the state mortuaries within the time as provided in the relevant law,” he said.

 

Dr. Shangula said the current COVID-19 situation in the country calls on all Namibians to do all in their power to arrest the dire state of affairs.

 

“That is the only way we will be able to safeguard the progress we have recorded in the past 15 months and to protect the gains and investments we made in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

 

The health minister assured the people of Namibia that the public health system is ready to receive anyone who needs space and its services at any time.

 

“But let us help the health system to function optimally by not overburdening it unnecessarily,” he said.

 

psychological COVID-19 pandemic toll mental health Namibians

 

Dr. Shangula’s address to the National Assembly reads as follows:

I rise to address this august House and through the House, the wider Namibian nation on the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country. It has been 15 months now, since the positive index COVID-19 cases were recorded and reported in Namibia on 13 March 2020.

Prior to that, the government did put in place measures to deals with the pandemic. This is what we refer to as our National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan.

The measures we have put in place as part of this plan have serves our nation well over the past one-and-a-half years. Namibia has been applauded for the success of our measures and our approach, which have generally kept the COVID-19 pandemic under control and at the level that we can manage. Following the outbreak in March 2020, we experienced the first wave from June to September 2020, with a peak in August, and the second wave from November 2020 to January 2021, with a peak in December 2020.

By 17 September 2020 when the State of Emergency lapsed, Namibia had recorded a cumulative number of 10 078 confirmed cases. The rate of recovery had been high, and there were fewer hospitalizations then. A total of 85 COVID-19 and 22 COVID-19 related deaths were reported by then. It should be noted that in our response, Namibia has compared well with other African countries of similar size and demographics.

When I delivered a Ministerial Statement in this August House in February this year, I urged all of us not to lower our guard but to continue practicing all public health measures and protocols as they are the most effective weapons we have against this invisible enemy.

While medical interventions and treatment are critical to saving the lives of those who fall ill, primary prevention measures are the most effective means to control further spread of Covid-19, bring down hospitalizations, and reduce deaths.

I provided the above background in order to highlight and place in fitting context, the fact that the COVID-19 epidemiological situation is changing, and is changing drastically on a daily basis. The numbers of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have unfortunately increased exponentially in recent weeks.

As at 7 June 2021, Namibia reported a cumulative number of 59 092 confirmed cases and 912 deaths compared to 355 deaths reported by 7th of February 2021. The recovery and death rates for the last Epidemiological Week is 89.4% and 1.6% respectively. The number of deaths has far surpassed the figures estimated in the Disease Estimates Projection Model that indicated that Namibia would have recorded 834 deaths due to COVID-19 during the years 2020 and 2021.

In the last two weeks, Namibia reported 5 761 new confirmed cases and 147 deaths. By any measure, these numbers are indeed alarming. Increased hospitalizations are placing immense pressure on the health care system, with respect to available personnel, facilities, equipment, supplies and commodities. For instance, there is an observed high demand for oxygen and personal protective equipment.

A consistent and high-quality supply of oxygen is critical to saving lives.

Looking at available epidemiological data, it is evident that Namibia has entered a virulent and deadly third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This calls for all our people to do their part to suppress the spread of the virus, to protect themselves and their families and indeed our communities.

Of concern is the fact that the presence of the Variant of Concern originally identified in South Africa was confirmed in a significant number of COVID-19 positive cases in Namibia.

The genome sequencing is being conducted at the University of Namibia Laboratory to identify the COVID-19 variants circulating in Namibia.

The increasing number of new infections and new hospitalization of patients presenting with severe to critical COVID-19 illness, as reported in recent weeks means that there is increased pressure on available high care and intensive care units both in the private and public health facilities.

In fact, the occupancy rate in most COVID-19 isolation and Intensive Care Units (ICUs), both in public and private sectors ranges between 67% to 100% on any given day. With the increase in the number of hospitalizations and the fact that COVID-19 is highly infectious, measures are being implemented to decongest referral hospitals by reducing the number of cold cases and elective surgical procedures to referral hospitals for the time being.

This will help to ease the burden on human resources, space, and supplies at referral hospitals and allow them to effectively deal with the COVID-19 emergency.

In addition, this will help to reduce the risk of exposure to the patients that are being referred.

The high number of death cases reported is also placing pressure on available space at state mortuaries. For this reason, the Ministry has advised families to ensure speedy burial of their loved ones in order to decongest the mortuaries. Provisions of the law will be enforced with respect to families who fail to collect bodies of their loved ones from the state mortuaries within the time as provided in the relevant law.

Some of the bodies have been lying in mortuaries for a period of 5 years even!
One of the invisible and perhaps unreported impacts of COVID-19 is the heavy toll that the pandemic is taking on mental health. The need for psychosocial support and counseling for patients and their families has grown.

This is particularly so after diagnosis and more especially in cases where patients succumb to the disease, and families require bereavement counselling.

Our Health Care Workers and other frontline staff are not spared. Hence, the Ministry is calling upon all stakeholders, including religious leaders, Counsellors, Psychologists, and Social Workers to avail their services and provide support to those in need.

The Ministry is committed to ensuring that other essential health services continue to be provided to the public.

These include the provision of HIV, TB, and Malaria prevention services, treatment, and control as well as Maternal and Child Health Services. It also includes surveillance for other communicable diseases and management of non-communicable diseases and conditions.

Activities aimed at controlling the spread of Hepatitis E in our communities are still ongoing and we are pleased that new Hepatitis E infections have been reduced significantly.

The Ministry is monitoring maternal deaths due to COVID-19 and the responsible teams have been alerted to carefully plan and implement interventions and preventive measures to address this situation.

The COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been ongoing following the launch of the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) on 18 March 2021.

This happened after Namibia received a donation of 100 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from the People’s Republic of China and 30 000 doses of Covishield (AstraZeneca) from the Republic of India, a few days later to which we are immensely grateful.

Namibia has also received two consignments, totaling 67, 200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX Facility. These consignments form part of the doses that the Namibian Government procured from the COVAX Facility.

More doses of vaccines are expected from the COVAX Facility, from Sinopharm, and through the African Medical Supply (AMS) platform. By 7 June 2021, a total number of 76 259 persons had received the 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccination, and 11 608 were fully vaccinated.

All Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) are reported within 24 hours and investigated. Additional Health Workers are being recruited to increase the number of vaccinators both for fixed and mobile teams to increase vaccination coverage per day.

It is important that Namibia moves closer to our target of vaccinating at least 60% of the adult population.

It is disheartening, and the nation must be highly concerned about the ongoing propagation and distribution of fake news and conspiracy theories about the vaccination which are circulating on various platforms of mainstream as well as social media. Some fake news is being spread by influential individuals in their communities.

This poses a huge risk to members of the public who fall prey, believing this to be correct information and becoming hesitant to be vaccinated.

The Public Health COVID-19 Regulations provided for the relevant sanctions for individuals who spread false and misleading information or in any other way contravene the regulations on the COVID-19 response.

For this reason, we must all do our part to protect ourselves and our families. The power to defeat this pandemic is in our own hands.

The Ministry will continue to engage the public with a view to reducing further spread of the pandemic and combat vaccine hesitancy.

This is a multisectoral effort and all of us must participate in it. This includes our Regional Governors, Constituency Councilors, Traditional, Religious and all leaders to become Champions in their communities to save our nation.

In order to reinforce our response, we have taken steps to bring on board more human resource because we need the feet on the ground in the Isolation Facilities and in the Hospital Wards. We have identified and expanded additional physical space to cater to more COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization and care.

We have increased the supply of oxygen as a critical component in the care of COVID-19 patients. Dedicated oxygen generating banks are being constructed at Windhoek Central Hospital and Onandjokwe Hospital while Katutura Hospital Respiratory Unit and Oshakati Hospitals are being provided with oxygen tanks. We have acquired clinical supplies and medical equipment, more Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and other logistical items to deal with the current wave. As an ongoing activity, the Ministry will recruit additional health workers, expand infrastructure, improve and increase oxygen generation and supplies, procure more supplies and commodities, including PPEs, essential medicines, vaccines, and other essential items. More efforts will also be exerted on Community engagement activities.

We appreciate and highly value the support provided by stakeholders to the National COVID-19 response. In this respect, I thank the US government for the generous financial support to our vaccination deployment campaign and to the development of sustainable oxygen generation capability.

I also acknowledge the contribution of the private sector, the state-owned enterprises, political parties and religious institutions.

The current COVID-19 situation in the country calls on all of us to deploy all ammunition at our disposal to arrest this dire situation.

That is the only way we will be able to safeguard the progress we have recorded so far and to protect the gains and investments we made in the fight against COVID-19.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who have shown and have actively cooperated with us in the fight against Covid-19. I implore all of us to get vaccinated and encourage others to do so; to adhere to the COVID-19 Regulations and encourage others to do the same; to embrace the concept of self-policing and practice it religiously; to stay away from the public, workplace, schools if we are not feeling well in order to protect others. Finally, let us all abide by and enforce the law in order to control the pandemic.

Above all, let us shy away from public gatherings; be they funerals, weddings, entertainment places, or church events. Let us remember that the pleasure and enjoyment of today may not warrant the pains of tomorrow.

I conclude my statement by reminding our nation of this long-standing African principle that “I am, because we are, and since we are, therefore I am!” Let us look after each other and protect one another against this deadly virus and its impact on our nation. I assure the Namibians that the public health system is ready to receive anyone who needs its space and its services at any time.

But let us help the health system to function optimally by not overburdening it unnecessarily.

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