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Experts: Pandemic Magnifies Mental Health Problems in South Africa

People stand in a queue to receive food aid amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Itireleng informal settlement, near Laudium suburb in Pretoria, South Africa, May 20, 2020. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Experts Say Pandemic Magnifies Mental Health Problems in South Africa
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The new coronavirus has hit South Africa harder than any other African nation. So far, the country has reported more than 23,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 480 deaths. But the disease is also affecting people’s mental health, as they deal with social distancing and the economic impact of the virus.

Sixty-year-old Wendy Jones has not been able to work for 15 years because of severe mental health problems. She is also not permitted to drive. With the health care system centered on the COVID-19 outbreak, getting the right treatments has become more difficult for her.

“I personally feel more anxious, I get really worried, and with who do I go to? Am I on the right medications, should my medications be increased? I don’t know these things, I need somebody to tell me...your trust in the medical system as it is, it should be complete, it should be absolute, but it isn’t.”

Masutane Modjadji is the leader for information and awareness at South Africa’s Federation for Mental Health. She says most patients are going untreated.

“While clinics and hospitals are open, very few of them still pay attention to current mental healthcare users during this time. And also, there is no screening for mental health during COVID-19 screening and testing…"

Kagisho Marooganye is a member of South Africa’s Society of Psychiatrists. He says mental health care was poor even before the coronavirus crisis.

“Now we are in a pandemic and you're finding yourself sort [of] on the back-foot with an already fragile system and not knowing how to go about fixing it," he said.

Masutane Modjadji agrees. She said, “In South Africa only 5 percent of the National Health Budget goes towards mental health services.”

She added that in low- and middle-income countries like South Africa, between 76 and 85 percent of people with mental illness receive no treatment.

South Africa’s mental health workers worry about what will happen after the pandemic. The country has been through similar health crises before and the effects are lasting, Kagisho Marooganye said.

“There will be some long-lasting effects on the psychic and mental state of the population. Based on what has happened before, we had SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome], we had MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome], we had Ebola and all of these have required some sort of lockdown, some sort of quarantine to take place...”

Experts worry that this time, South Africa’s struggling mental health care system will fall even more behind in meeting the needs of patients.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Franco Puglisi reported on this story for VOANews. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

absolute adj. not limited in any way

fragileadj. easily broken or destroyed

incomen. money that is earned from work, investments, business, etc.

lockdown n. the confinement of prisoners to their cells for a temporary period as a security measure

pandemicn. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

psychiatristn. a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders

quarantinen. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading

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