Health partnerships and mental health during COVID-19

By Fiona Elliott, CGHP

This blog continues our COVID-19 series, reflecting on our last Global Health Café of 2020 where we joined with Zimbabwe Health Training Support to discuss mental health and partnership opportunities during COVID-19.

Over the past 10 months, health and social care workers in both the UK and Zimbabwe have been at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Global Health Café series gave us and Zimbabwe Health Training Support the opportunity to discuss what this means for clinician’s mental health and prospective partnerships. We welcomed speakers Professor Rashida Ferrand, Lynn Mwawa, Dr Elinor Moore, Tarisai Bere, Dr Tinashe Goronga, Dorcas Gwata and Evelyn Brealey to share their experiences and discuss next steps.

COVID-19 has influenced all our ways of working. However, it has also presented pockets of good practice in systems and reminded us of the need to learn from each other, in order to create better solutions. Despite different starting points, there is much to be learnt from both the Zimbabwean and UK responses. In both countries, and across the world, we have learnt how interconnected health is and that the global ramifications of a pandemic are felt across healthcare services. Professor Rashida Ferrand cited an increase in still births in Zimbabwe as the obstetrics department closed due to COVID-19. Both health systems have had to deal with limited resources, a new experience for many NHS health professionals. As Dr Elinor Moore explained, a pre-COVID-19 NHS was less accustomed at dealing with limited resources and such restricted capacity. Now however, like in many countries, careful consideration is given to the availability of resources and provision of care for patients. However, this is further accentuated in many LMICs. Professor Rashida Ferrand’s intensive care unit started with the realisation that all their available drugs had expired three years ago.

CGHP team and partners in Zimbabwe

Dr Elinor Moore described the pandemic as ‘all encompassing’, ‘overwhelming’ and ‘exhausting’. These three words highlight the importance of health workers mental health and acknowledging the toll the pandemic is taking. Tarasi Bere spoke about the amazing work Zimbabwe has done on this since March 2020. Through the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Department, a group of mental health clinicians came together to develop responses to vulnerable populations’ needs online. A variety of mental health home videos were created, educating health care workers on how COVID-19 may affect their mental health and what signs to look out for as well as addressing their fears. This developed into creating videos for different populations, for example addressing fear about viruses and the changed grieving process. These videos aimed to help people cope and explain mental health. Their efforts culminated in training people in mental health first aid and setting up a call centre in Harare. Over 200 people have been trained so far and are on standby to respond to calls remotely. Tarasi feels confident that were the country to go into crisis mode now, they would be ready to respond and help people’s mental health. This is extremely positive and shows what can be achieved for health care workers and the general population. As Dorcas Gwata noted, the UK could learn here from Zimbabwe’s experience.

As reflected on by all our speakers, COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of global solidarity and the integrity of structural determinants of health. Health partnerships offer an opportunity for learning across the globe even during a global pandemic. Coming together to discuss experiences and learn from each other offers an opportunity for reflection. This provides an important space for growth and development as we move into 2021 and COVID-19 continues to be part of our global reality. The panel were positive about the future and opportunities for building relationships across the globe. 

With thanks to Zimbabwe Health Training Support and Global Health Dorcas for co-hosting this event.

For more information on CGHP activities during 2020, please read our end of year retrospective – available here. If you are interested in supporting CGHP, please follow the donate button below or contact the team.