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Dear friends,

From one day to the next, the world seems to have turned upside down. These are unprecedented times. Covid-19 has radically changed our day-to-day lives, our routines, the way we relate to others. You are all in our thoughts, and we hope that everyone is safe, surrounded by a supportive network of family and friends, even if they are not physically next to you.

With mental health at the core of our work, we are particularly concerned with those most vulnerable. The necessary social isolation enforced in most countries is affecting the mental well-being of millions of men, women and children. Across South Asia, over 1.3 billion people are currently on lockdown; many of these are daily-wage earners; thousands are running out of food, and hunger could soon become a greater problem than the pandemic itself. This really is a challenging moment in the recent history of mankind, and nurses, doctors and most of the healthcare workforce are at the forefront of this unparalleled battle.

How Unity in Health is responding to Covid-19

As a healthcare organisation, we have a duty of care towards those we work with and support. Since the beginning of the outbreak, our staff and volunteers working in South Asia have been:

  • raising awareness on infection prevention and Covid-19 control among rural communities in Eastern Nepal. We have been meeting with community leaders, teachers, faith healers and many others, spreading the word on what each can do to keep their families and communities safe and protected.
  • training Health Assistants (HAs) and Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) on how to support people affected by the virus, offering them guidance on simple but effective ways to manage symptoms, contain infection, and promote recovery.
  • addressing the stigma surrounding infectious conditions, by encouraging open discussions within the communities we work with on the questions, fears and anxieties many have on this new and unpredictable virus.

For the safety of everyone we work with and our staff, our community-based activities have had to stop for the time being.  Our last mental health outreach clinic took place on Sunday 15 March; depending on how the pandemic develops over the coming weeks, we hope to resume our services on the 3 May. Nevertheless, most of the doctors, nurses, health assistants and FCHVs we train continue to work, bringing care to those most in need across Nepal’s precarious healthcare centres.

What the future holds

At this stage we do not know how the pandemic will progress. What we are certain of, is that the impact on the mental well-being of those most affected and their communities will be unprecedented. At present, Unity in Health is working hard to re-enforce its country-based activities as soon as this crisis abates; more than ever, we expect that the impoverished communities we work with will need support with the mental and emotional distress caused by the aftermath of the pandemic – bereavement, loss of income and unemployment,  and in some cases homelessness and destitution.

Our plans are to continue training more nurses, doctors, psychologists and others, so that Nepal and other South Asian countries have a robust response mechanism to the challenges that lie ahead of us all. This will not be an easy task. However, we are certain that with you all, we can reinforce our spirit of togetherness, support, and ultimately continue changing the lives of those affected by mental illness and emotional distress. Thank you for being with us. Stay safe and until very soon.

With my warmest regards,
João Marçal-Grilo
Unity in Health Founding Director

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