Perinatal Mental Health Project – Response to COVID-19

22 Jul 2020 - 14:30

The Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) in the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health has been working in several different ways in an effort to address the devasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in South Africa for mothers and their children. Although this segment of the population appears relatively protected from disease related to COVID infection, they are particularly vulnerable to the adverse social, economic and psychological consequences of the pandemic.

PMHP’s work has included launching a multi-media messaging campaign, developing national policy as well as mobilising practical and mental health support for mothers attending Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit (MOU).

Messages for Mothers

In collaboration with the NGOs Embrace, Side by Side and GrowGreat, the PMHP launched a Messages for Mothers (M4M) campaign to deliver multi-media, multi-language, evidence-based messages relating to COVID-19 for South African mothers and caregivers. It addresses mothers’ unmet need for bespoke information relating to the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, the messages are specific to the population of women highly vulnerable to the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. 

The messages are developed in response to questions and conversations emerging from the NGOs’ networks of mothers communicating on social media and from frontline healthworkers who identify information gaps. Furthermore, messages are added or updated over time, to address the changing contexts of home, parenting and public service realities.  In addition to the core mental and physical health message pillars of the campaign, there are pillars on mindfulness and ‘parenting in the pandemic’. All messages are developed in consultation and peer reviewed by several professional and academic experts working in the public service sector.

The messages have been integrated into the National Department of Health (NDoH) ‘National Framework and Guidelines for Maternal and Neonatal Care during a crisis: COVID-19 response’ and we are currently developing a supplementary on-line training pack on this for healthworkers.

The messages are being integrated into several other large-scale distribution channels. These include the Sikhaba iCovid-19 national radio series airing on 15 stations across the country, the zero-rated NDOH Corona Virus website and the NDoH Covid WhatsApp line 060 123456. The messages are also being updated and added to several organisations’ websites, and over time and are being translated into more and more South African languages. As there has been a demand for hardcopies of our messages, we have developed material like the pictured mental health brochure for easy download and printing.

Mental health service at Hanover Park

The PMHP’s mental health service at Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit (MOU) has needed to adapt to the crisis. Clinical services coordinator and counsellor, Liesl Hermanus, continues to support her most vulnerable clients through limited face-to-face sessions at the MOU.  

Where clients have access to a mobile phone and privacy at home, she has been continuing the counselling service by conducting sessions telephonically, supplying airtime funds if needed. To supplement this, she has been using the PMHP WhatsApp line, to support many women through regular interactions, as required.

Food insecurity and access to baby care supplies in Hanover Park

In low-income communities, such as Hanover Park, large numbers of people are now facing severe hunger and feelings of helplessness. Pregnant women and new mothers appear to be especially vulnerable, as they struggle to take care of themselves and their newborn babies with limited access to support from their families, broader communities and fewer opportunities for household income to be generated. Many clients, who are either pregnant or have just given birth, have been talking about the desperate hunger they are experiencing during this time.  Since April, the PMHP partnered with a local organsiation in Hanover Park, The Alcardo Andrews Foundation, which provides food to hundreds of people in the community on a daily basis.  Liesl has used their streamlined referral system to ensure her clients and their households can receive food. The PMHP is using its social media channels and networks, to support fundraising for the Foundation.

In addition, Liesl activated several networks through an online campaign to raise funds to assist pregnant and new mothers using MOU services on the Cape Flats, with basic necessities. You can read more and support this campaign here.