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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 97-99

Psychosocial Response to COVID-19 in Africa, with Special Reference to Kenya

1 University of Nairobi; Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya
2 Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya

Date of Submission21-May-2020
Date of Decision29-May-2020
Date of Acceptance07-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication14-Aug-2020

Correspondence Address:
Prof. David M Ndetei
University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya; Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, Nairobi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/WSP.WSP_47_20

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On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. The coronavirus has affected different aspects of people's lives in different ways from physical isolation, job losses, schools, offices shutting down, etc., These changes have had an impact on people's emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being. The country has seen 2021 infections, 482 recoveries, and 69 people succumbing due to coronavirus as of May 31, 2020. The Kenyan government has taken measures to stop the spread of the disease, but this has come with its challenges as a large number of Kenyans rely on day-to-day income, live in shared accommodation, thus making social distancing a nearly impossible task to achieve. These factors among others have raised the fears of the expected impact on psychosocial needs and response during the COVID-19 period. It is likely that governments have focused on how to stop the spread of coronavirus and finding a cure, that attention on the psychosocial impact of the coronavirus has not been given the needed attention. This review has been done to examine the psychosocial responses undertaken by the Kenyan government and its stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gaps likely to be felt by vulnerable populations have also been examined. There is a need to develop measures that will address the psychosocial stressors faced by the vulnerable populations. There will be a need for mental health services long after COVID-19 is managed and a working vaccine is developed; thus, the development and implementation of integrative treatment and services is imperative.

Keywords: Coronavirus, COVID-19, marginalized, mental health, psychosocial

How to cite this article:
Ndetei DM, Mutiso V, Musyimi C, Kameti F. Psychosocial Response to COVID-19 in Africa, with Special Reference to Kenya. World Soc Psychiatry 2020;2:97-9

How to cite this URL:
Ndetei DM, Mutiso V, Musyimi C, Kameti F. Psychosocial Response to COVID-19 in Africa, with Special Reference to Kenya. World Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 May 31];2:97-9. Available from: https://www.worldsocpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2020/2/2/97/292136

Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) is a communicable respiratory disease which is caused by a new strain of coronavirus that causes illness in humans. While scientists are still learning about COVID-19, they have determined that it is spread from person to person through infected air droplets, direct physical contact, or contact with services that contain the virus then touching the face with the contaminated hands.[1] The COVID-19 has hit the globe with unprecedent psychosocial needs and challenges that touch on every aspect of life and life cycle and, in particular, the more vulnerable members in communities (World Health Organization, 2020).[2] There is also the realization that for every known case, there could be many more who are unknown simply because they are asymptomatic and yet still potentially infectious, hence the need for social distancing and sanitization that are being practiced worldwide. The government has provided daily briefs on the status of COVID-19 and shared messages in all public forums on simple preventive measures, i.e., social distance, sanitation, the use of masks, etc., and places to visit for on symptom suspicion. The positive cases are quarantined until they have recovered. Other measures have included the national curfew to be at home between 7PM-5AM to reduce the crowds and other forms of physical interaction. At least four counties with the highest rates of positive tests have been put on lockdown to reduce contagion to counties with minimal positive cases. As a direct result of these preventive measures, technology is assuming new dimensions for learning, for schools, universities, and conducting businesses. This will outlast this pandemic.[3]

While the measures put in place by the government are slowing down the spread of COVID-19, they have their own adverse effects. Social distancing has led to negative social isolation in many instances. Closure of businesses and reduced or eliminated economic activities have led to loss of income for many families and in many cases no food for the family. The caregivers are overworked. All of these are likely to have negative impacts on mental health. Prolonged periods of people being together within the household have led in some instances to emotional and physical abuse (Ministry of Health, 2020), especially in families that were already experiencing pathological relationship. The Kenya Ministry of Health and the Gender Violence Recovery Center report that they have seen an increase in the cases of domestic, gender-based, and sexual violence as the country continues to battle COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Kenyan Ministry of Health, 45% of women and girls aged 15–49 in Kenya have experienced physical violence and 14% have experienced sexual violence with many cases not reported to the authorities. While the interventions utilized by the Kenyan government to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus are necessary, they have made it harder for survivors to report abuse and seek help and for service providers to respond efficiently. This has led to the stigmatization of COVID-19. We are, therefore, likely to see an increase of mental illness as well as behavioral problems ranging from depression, anxiety, child abuse, substance use, etc., and in particular, in people who already have preexisting mental illness and the vulnerable.[4]

Marginalized and vulnerable persons and those with disabilities in society, their families, and those under the category of “urban poor” present a special need.[5] They are overrepresented in the categories of “unemployed” or “low-income earners working in the informal sector and dependent on daily wages.” They have been especially hard hit by COVID-19 in economic terms. Most of them are unable to practice social distancing because they still have to work outside their homes on a daily basis since the nature of their work does not allow them to work from home; they do not have the resources to stock up on essentials such as food, toiletries, and medicine, and pay bills. Notably, lack of medication and sufficient nutrition increases the susceptibility to COVID-19 owing to low immunity. All of these call for measures to reach out for them with social protection programs. A constraint to this is that many of them are not registered as persons with disabilities. However, some communities are getting together to identify who among themselves need special attention.

Overall, the government is making joint efforts to respond to the psychosocial needs of the different vulnerable groups. Psychosocial interventions have been discussed by various service providers and forwarded to the health committee in the senate for budgetary allocation. Different service providers including community health volunteers have been identified. There is provision of psychosocial support for persons awaiting COVID-19 results as well as tailored support for persons who have tested positive and their families in the various government-identified quarantine areas. Plans continue to be developed to ensure that the conditions are appropriate for persons under quarantine to prevent unnecessary stress. There are plans to orient all service providers on how to provide basic emotional and practical support to affected people using psychological first aid. They are also encouraged to debrief with their supervisors and to monitor their stress levels and reinforce safety procedures. Further measures include constant advocacy and positive awareness messages on how people can take care of their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, including encouraging use of technology to stay connected. Community health workers are also in the process of being involved to create awareness on mental health during this pandemic, provide psychological first aid, and deliver drugs to persons with mental health conditions and at risk of immunosuppression such as the older persons and children with comorbidities. All of these efforts on mental health are at their early stages, and it is expected they will improve with time.

Several civil societies have suggested their strategies to complement the government's directives and interventions. The Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation (www.africamentalhealthresearchandtrainingfoundation) has developed a platform to provide online mental health counseling. The hope is that this approach will survive this scourge and feed into an inclusive approach to mental health. As we continue to battle the coronavirus as a country, we are reminded everyday by the ministry of health the importance of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best given the high level of stress, the impact on resources, and other factors, we are likely to experience significant mental health impact over time and could be the new normal for a long while.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Chepkoech A. High Risk Patients have it Rough in COVID-19 War' Daily Nation; 4 April, 2020. Available from: https://www.nation.co.ke/news/High-risk-patients-have-it-rough-in-Covid-19-war/1056-5513694-2yhtff/index.html [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 06].  Back to cited text no. 1
National Emergency Resonse Committee on Corona Virus; Update of Coronavirus in the Country and Response Measures, As At 29th April, 2020 Brief No. 42. Available from: www.health.go.ke [Last accessed 2020 Apr 29].  Back to cited text no. 2
Seminog OO, Goldacre MJ. Risk of pneumonia and pneumococcal disease in people with severe mental illness: English record linkage studies. Thorax 2013;68:171-6.  Back to cited text no. 3
Cheng VC, Lau SK, Woo PC, Yuen KY. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus as an agent of emerging and reemerging infection. Clin Microbiol Rev 2007;20:660-94.  Back to cited text no. 4
World Health Organisation. Rolling Updates on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Available from: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 06].  Back to cited text no. 5

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