WHO EMRO develops the first-ever regional action plan for MHPSS in emergencies
In June, World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO EMRO) organised a consultation workshop with regional and international experts from different sectors, including health, safeguarding and protection, education, and academia, to review its first-ever regional action plan for MHPSS in emergencies to ensure that it meets the needs of the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) countries.
This plan and associated work are ever more important as countries in the region begin to emerge from the most acute phases of the COVID-19 crisis, start the long process of recovery, and concerns over the mental health of their general populations loom larger in the public health landscape. Ultimately, the plan aims to improve the mental health and psycho-social well-being of the region’s populations across all phases of emergencies.
The EMR is one of the regions most affected by a wide range of emergencies, including conflicts, climate change, outbreaks, and disasters triggered by natural hazards. The region has responded to some of the world's largest humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria as well as the recent floods in Pakistan and the earthquakes in Syria. Such emergencies significantly impact people’s mental health and psycho-social well-being.
In addition, COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the already exhausted health systems in the region over the last three years. As such, the pandemic has not only increased rates of mental distress and mental health conditions in the general population, but it has also widened existing socioeconomic inequalities. These issues particularly affect groups already at higher risk of, or vulnerable to, mental health issues such as
, children, adolescents, women, migrants, refugees and healthcare workers as well as people with pre-existing mental and physical health conditions . In effect, the pandemic has synergised the impact of other existing emergencies (e.g., conflicts and natural disasters) on the mental health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people in the EMR.
In response to these issues, the World Health Organization (WHO) has played a key role in coordinating MHPSS response efforts in protracted and acute emergency-affected populations in and beyond the region. It has mobilised emergency mental health experts over the last few years
, to support countries in the region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. Furthermore, the organisation has had to massively scale-up its guidance and support to EMR countries around the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and countermeasures taken to contain it, including self-isolation procedures, lengthy lockdowns, and school closures.
Wider work on MHPSS in the EMR region
The UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST), a collaboration between LSHTM and the UK Health Security Agency, has worked alongside many partners to collectively support and improve the evidence base of emergency preparedness and response and strengthening health systems in the region.
For example, the UK-PHRST organised a workshop in Cairo that brought together MHPSS, emergency preparedness and response, and infectious disease outbreak experts with people with lived experience of mental health conditions to discuss how to better integrate MHPSS into public health emergency preparedness and response. Participants shared their experiences from COVID-19 and other public health emergencies and the challenges of including MHPSS as a part of the response. Building on the Cairo workshop and as part of its continuing support to the EMR, the UK-PHRST will organise a workshop to pilot the use of the MHPSS Minimum Service Package in the Lebanese context. These activities are a part of research and capacity-strengthening activities carried out by the UK-PHRST with national and regional partners to strengthen MHPSS in emergencies, especially in the context of infectious disease outbreaks.
LSHTM hosts the MHPSS Minimum Services Package through the Mental Health innovation network (MHIN). In collaboration with WHO EMRO, MHIN is establishing a regional network of mental health innovators - researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, service user advocates, and donors from around the Eastern Mediterranean Region – to facilitate sharing innovative resources and ideas to promote mental health and improve the lives of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders in the Region. LSHTM also hosts a Mental Health and Psycho-social Support Research Network that brings together researchers and MHPSS practitioners and aims at strengthening the evidence base of MHPSS interventions and supporting collaborative research to improve the quality and effectiveness of MHPSS services.
LSHTM has led and supported several other projects that contributed to strengthening the evidence base of humanitarian response in the EMR, such as:
- GOAL project, which sought to support the government and partners in health system strengthening for better mental health of Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon.
- STRENGTHS project, which aimed to help provide better and more cost-effective community-based mental health care to Syrian refugees in countries seven countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.
- Afya Consortium, which seeks to generate key evidence on public health threats in populations affected by crises, across different thematic areas, including non-communicable diseases and mental health, in four countries, including Sudan and Somalia.
The UK-Public Health Rapid Support Team is a key international partner in infectious disease outbreak detection, prevention, preparedness and response; operational research; and capacity strengthening.
We partner with low- and-middle income countries to support effective response to outbreaks before they develop into global health emergencies, and are able to deploy teams of public health specialists over a range of technical disciplines to outbreak areas within 48 hours.
We are an innovative partnership between the UK Health Security Agency and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, funded with UK aid by the UK Department of Health and Social Care. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Department of Health and Social Care.
- Main image: WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO)
- Photo 2:: Egyptian Red Crescent