COVID-19 and family mental health: SPANS’ preparedness and response plan in Zimbabwe

COVID-19 and family mental health: SPANS’ preparedness and response plan in Zimbabwe

COVID-19 and family mental health: SPANS’ preparedness and response plan in Zimbabwe


Linos Muvhu

Posted: 12th May 2020

Linos Muvhu is the Secretary and Chief Talent Team Leader of the Society for Pre and Post Natal Services (SPANS) in Zimbabwe. SPANS, an MHIN member, promotes and supports antenatal, perinatal nutrition and postnatal care (APPC) to promote good mental health across the life cycle. In this post, Linos shares the organisation’s COVID-19 Family Mental Health Preparedness and Response Plan and activities.

Key messages Innovations
Lockdown has led to increased reports of gender-based violence COVID-19 Family Mental Health Preparedness and Response Plan
The pandemic highlights the importance of supporting families and maternal mental health Team WhatsApp group for emotional and spiritual support                 
Work in solidarity and share essential resources                         Weekly calls with Ember African Innovators to share evidence-based information and lessons learnt

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in Zimbabwe has brought about major changes in people’s lifestyles and social relationships, which will have long-term impacts on their mental and physical health. We are seeing increased stress, anxiety, depression and fear amongst our service users. Demands for family therapy have grown in response to increased reports of gender-based violence. We believe the pandemic serves as a wake-up call to invest more in maternal mental health in Zimbabwe.

Clinics in Zimbabwe have remained open during lockdown, and during routine antenatal care visits we take time to talk to women about COVID-19. Additionally, SPANS has developed a plan to respond to the mental health challenges presented by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Family Mental Health Preparedness and Response Plan complements activities by the Ministry of Health and includes six main activities:

1. Community mental health awareness promotion. We are planning outreach activities to raise awareness and provide communities with reassurance and accurate information on infection prevention from WHO and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC). Given the current prevalence of misinformation, we also plan to offer “Covid-19 Mental Health Media Awards” to journalists publishing evidence-based and helpful information.

SPANS team raising awareness in communities about COVID-19 and mental health.

2. Supporting the mental health of front-line workers. Collaborative debriefings for SPANS Preparedness and Response Team and other front-line health care workers will support mental health and prevent burnout. We have created a team WhatsApp group to support each other emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally so we can continue to provide essential services.

3. Monitoring and risk assessment. SPANS will carry out a study on how COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of communities in Zimbabwe. This study will help us identify affected households so we can offer family counselling sessions where needed.

4. Capacity building for field staff. Community Mental Health Workers will receive training from the MoHCC’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Department on personal protective equipment and best practice when conducting outreach activities during an infectious disease outbreak. Part of this training will also be on the identification of mental health needs. 

5. Establishment of a toll-free line for remote psychotherapy. The toll-free line will be managed by professional Family Therapists and Counsellors providing mental health support for people directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19. The line will be promoted via social media and radio broadcasts. Pre and post-COVID-19 test counselling will prepare individuals for getting tested and help them move forwards should they test positive. We have already transitioned our existing services to tele-counselling and have noted increased reports of gender-based violence.

6. Hosting our 2nd annual conference on maternal mental health in Africa. When the lockdown is lifted and the threat of the pandemic has passed, our next annual conference (currently scheduled for December 2020) will focus on the impact and lessons learned from disaster management and pandemics on perinatal mental health. Discussion topics will include infectious disease outbreak preparedness and establishing evidence-based plans for future responses. 

Last week, we received approval from the MoHCC to begin awareness-raising activities, COVID-19 education for field staff and tele-counselling services. We are also contributing to weekly Zoom meetings for all Ember African Innovators on COVID-19 mental health updates and lessons learnt. Ember is a collaboration between the SHM Foundation and the Mental Health Innovation Network aiming to support and strengthen community mental health interventions.

Working in solidarity and sharing resources is crucial during this time. We must learn from other countries and share information across Ministries of Health to support families and get through this together.

Follow SPANS on Facebook.

Key Resources

  • How to include marginalized and vulnerable people (UN Women & Translators without Borders) [Link]
  • Gender implications in Development and Humanitarian Settings (Care) [Link]
  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations for Volunteers in COVID-19 (IFRC) [Link]
  • Mental Health & Psychosocial Support for Staff, Volunteers and Communities (IFRC) [Link]