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COVID-19 and Mental Health: lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic – making the case for UHC

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Young Leaders for Health (YLH) hosted its second webinar on 23rd July 2020 discussing COVID-19 and Mental Health: lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic - making the case for Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Dara Karakolis, co-coordinator of the YLH Social Entrepreneurship Challenge on eHealth 2020 introduced the speakers, briefed the audience on the webinar agenda, and discussed how the current time is crucial for mental health, whilst elaborating on the impact COVID-19 has had to date. Moving forward, what can we learn and change to improve mental health?

Aditi Kuber, member of the YLH webinar series organizing committee, discussed how the pandemic stresses the need for Universal Health Coverage. Aditi stated that since health transforms communities and economies, Universal Health Coverage is needed. To be able to pave the way forward in health emergency preparedness we need to think differently, and allow for greater change in communities. Aditi then underlined the importance of building stronger health systems for UHC. She underlined the importance of enabling people to receive quality health services that meet their needs, without economic struggle. Aditi Kuber closed her presentation by reminding the fellow panelists as well as the audience to keep in mind that after every data point is a person; and we forget that it is a human life lost due to lack of affordable high quality health coverage.

Nicole Votruba, Business Development Manager at King's College London and Coordinator at #FundaMentalSDG, highlighted that one in four persons has a mental health condition in their life, which is also a leading cause of mortality and early deaths. 14,3 percent of world wide deaths can be linked to mental health alone. There is an excessive mental health treatment gap in low and middle income countries. Low income countries have a significantly lower treatment rate compared to high income countries. There are also severe human rights violations in countries due to lack of knowledge on mental health. Although awareness regarding the complex nature of mental health is growing, much work remains. “Mental health is very much needed more than ever to support societies for long term development”, said Nicole Votruba.

Samuel Knauss, Physician and Neuroscientist at the Charité University Berlin shined light on the landscape pertaining to UHC in Madagascar. Samuel shared data on Madagascar's low income and lack of mental health resources. He also underlined the challenge of 9 neurologists and 14 psychiatrists living in Madagascar, a country with a population of 26 million, where 19,92% live below the poverty line ( less than 2 USD a day). During the webinar Samuel underlined that the most difficult challenge is when people do not have access to basic medical support. The lack of medical support prompted Samuel and his colleagues to start mTOMADY, a micro health insurance scheme, allowing patients to receive medical support, including mental health treatments through a mobile money infrastructure. When discussing the ongoing pandemic, Samuel stated that currently his biggest fear is the limited outreach due to COVID-19.

Christopher Laurie, a health researcher and health and wellness advocate at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados presented the results of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recent case study on mental health. Christopher quoted “I live where you (used to) vacation” to allow the audience to understand the impact COVID-19 has on the island. In March 2020, the island with a population of 287.000 had its first two reported cases, which were met with swift actions by the government of Barbados, according to Christopher Laurie. Furthermore, Christopher outlined the importance of pursuing an elaborate communication strategy, something Barbados has put in place. When taking a birds eye view on Universal Health Coverage and the need to invest in basic, affordable health services, Christopher concluded: COVID-19 has been an equalizer, we all have been affected in unique ways.”

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