Building Back Better from West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak
In Monrovia, Liberia on June 10th and 11th, 2015, stakeholders in mental heath and psychosocial support (MHPSS) came together to discuss, learn and make plans to ‘Build Back Better’ from the regional effects of the West African Ebola virus disease outbreak.
Ebola virus disease was first detected in Guinea in March 2014, spreading across the porous borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia by May 2014. While Liberia has recently been declared ‘Ebola Free,’ Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to wage battle against the outbreak. To date, it is estimated that over 27,000 people have been infected by the virus while over 11,000 people have died. Beyond the loss of human lives, we are only beginning to understand how Ebola virus disease has impacted the Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
From an MHPSS perspective, we know that the outbreak has led to significant impact on the mental and social health of people in the region. In addition the experience of loss and fear, many people have been exposed to distressing situations and images, potentially leading to stress, anxiety and mood disorders. Social problems continue to emerge within the 3 countries, including challenges faced by survivors of Ebola virus disease, health care workers and other support workers who are experiencing stigma and discrimination from their within their own families and communities. In addition, due to travel and work restrictions put in place during the outbreak as well as loss of community members, there has also been a drastic decline of income generation within communities.
There is an obvious need to learn and document the experiences of addressing MHPSS needs in the region and for countries to make plans on how they will strengthen their mental health systems to best meet the needs of their residents. It is for this reason that Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare with the support of WHO Liberia hosted last week’s ‘Technical Consultation on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for People Affected by Ebola Virus Disease.’ The meeting brought together over 75 representatives from the three countries, including members of the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare, national and international NGO partners and donor agencies, in addition to WHO MHPSS staff from Headquarters, the AFRO Regional office and the three WHO country offices.
There were three objectives for the meeting:
- To identify achievements, challenges and lessons learned in relation to the Ebola-related mental health and psychosocial emergency response in the three countries
- To produce a roadmap of mental health system recovery/development for the three countries
- Identification of a minimum response framework for mental health and psychosocial support that can be rolled out in case of similar future outbreaks in other countries based on the experience of Ebola mental health and psychosocial response in the three countries.
Representatives from the Ministries of Health and Ministries of Social Welfare presented lessons learned and challenges faced in addressing MHPSS needs. Presentations were also made to highlight the priority MHPSS activities in each of the countries. Extensive amounts of time were allocated for group discussions, providing opportunities for participants to share experiences and learn from each other. A draft of “Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Considerations in Ebola Virus Disease Outbreaks: What should public health officers know?,” a minimum response framework for addressing MHPSS in future Ebola outbreaks, was also shared and discussed amongst participants. The feedback received from the participants will be integrated into the final draft of the document.
The feedback from participants attending the meeting was extremely positive. Many participants expressed that the meeting set a positive momentum for mental health and psychosocial support in their countries:
“I think the meeting is a potential game-changer for mental health service delivery and policy implementation in Liberia and most likely the region. In my experience for mental health in Liberia this is ‘truly huge’!”
-Janice Cooper, Country Lead for the Liberia Mental Health Initiative, The Carter Centre, Liberia
Others participants conveyed the priceless opportunity to share experiences from such a broad range of stakeholders from the region, recommending that such meetings take place annually:
“There is no better moment than meeting with other delegates in such a great gathering, sharing experiences with great minds. The sessions provided a forum where shared ideas were analyzed, processed and reproduced to meet felt needs of the EVD stoked Mano River Union countries; thus laying a solid foundation to building back better. Bunch of thanks to the organizers and facilitators. I recommend that such meetings be held annually.”
- Joshua A. Duncan, Coordinator Mental Health Coalition, Sierra Leone
In addition, there was a sense of morale boosting amongst participants:
“For me, the impact on our team (international and national) was huge; partly so because we could see the difference between the countries in terms of resources, which gave some context for us. For one of my counterparts present, it was so helpful to her that another person in Liberia offered ideas on how they could collaborate (Guinea/Liberia) on women's issues relevant to effects of Ebola. For her, French speaking only, this was a huge sense of collaboration and camaraderie. That last piece was also part of the morale boost for the team. Guinea is difficult because of the acute situation of Ebola transmission, the lack of budget for mental health, and on the other hand, the intense commitment and motivation of host country nationals working with us and trying so hard to change things. As one told me, "I feel motivated now!" and eager to talk to others so they too become engaged in a national agenda to support the implementation of mental health services."
- Laurie Lopez Charlés, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, WHO Guinea
Overall, the consensus from participants and organizers was that the meeting was worthwhile. It is anticipated that the discussions that took place will support the governments and mental health and psychosocial support stakeholders to ‘Build Back Better’ in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
For further information contact: Heather Pearson
- Webinar: Psychosocial Aspects of the Ebola Emergency and Response (Q&A with Dr Peter Hughes)
- World Health Organization "Psychological First Aid During Ebola Virus Disease Outbreaks": Guide and Facilitation Manual
- World Health Organization: Channeling Hope, Interview with Psychosocial Health Worker E. Dash Karbar