COVID-19 was declared a national disaster in Zimbabwe on Friday, March 27, enabling State resources to be re-routed towards efforts against viral spread. Most of the current cases are due to travel into Zimbabwe from South Africa and Botswana, so a nation-wide lockdown was put into place on Monday, March 30, and then extended indefinitely on Saturday, May 16th. On July 21, President Mnangagwa issued a mandatory curfew for residents from 6:00 until 18:00 and detailed certain essential services to be open 8:00 until 15:00, but public activities and informal markets remain prohibited. Currently, Zimbabwean borders remain closed to all human traffic, but remain open for cargo. Health-related facilities continue to remain open as previously.
These new regulations have mandated social isolation, and data from other countries shows this may contribute to increased rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and domestic violence. As isolation becomes mandatory and non-essential businesses close, people may be separated from their previous coping strategies and the burden of mental illness may increase. Insight from the U.S. has also called attention to increased rates of domestic violence during forced isolation in an abusive environment. Another multi-country systematic review found that job loss and unstable employment contributes to significant deterioration in individual wellbeing, with increased rates of chronic anxiety and depression. Zimbabwe-specific data still remains left to be collected, but these data from other countries may still hold relevance and should be kept in mind during these times.
Currently, Zimbabweans are encouraged to remain at home, wash their hands frequently, and wear masks. If exposed to the virus, Zimbabwean government has mandated a strict 21-day self-quarantine. We at Kushinga realize that it is much easier for people of privilege to follow these recommendations; some may not have access to protective masks or water to wash their hands, while still others may not have transportation to medical appointments or access to technology for health information or virtual health visits. Zimbabweans are urged to adhere to the recommendations as best as they can given the resources accessible during these times.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, the effects on both mind and body continue to unfold.
Our team has been responding to the COVID-19 mental health crisis in several ways. Our managing director, Debra Machando, is on the National COVID mental health response committee. She is also dispatched by the WHO to the Ministry of Health to assist with strategic planning on the country’s mental health system.
With funding from the WHO, our team will be working an intervention at the intersection of gender, COVID-19, and mental health.
Finally, our executive co-director, Kham Kidia, has been involved in providing weekly wellness/debriefing sessions to healthcare workers, especially junior doctors, who are involved in direct patient care in an effort for healthcare worker wellbeing during the crisis