MSF: COVID-19 further fuels mental health crisis in Dadaab as durable solutions falter

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A mental health crisis is growing in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex, where hundreds of thousands of Somalis have been stuck for decades now. A fatal mix of pent-up despair, anxiety and fear, combined with new uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, is forcing refugees to take extreme measures. Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) run a mental health clinic at our 100-bed hospital in Dagahaley camp, one of three that make up the Dadaab refugee complex. The clinic provides medical treatment for patients with various mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, as well as personality and anxiety disorders. MSF is witnessing a dramatic deterioration in the mental health of camp residents. In Dagahaley, the number of attempted suicides is rising, and psychosocial consultations have jumped by more than 50 per from last year, over the same time period until September – from 505 to 766. In the past two months, five people have reportedly attempted suicide in the camp, two with fatal results. Many refugees…

UNHCR: COVID-19 inducing ‘widespread despair’ among refugees, UNHCR appeals for urgent support for mental health

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Psychiatrist Pieter Ventevogel has led UNHCR’s mental health response for the past six years, a time during which the number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution has grown to an unprecedented 79.5 million, including 26 million refugees. He sat down with global website editor Tim Gaynor in Geneva to discuss refugee mental health and how it is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. What was the state of refugee mental health before the current pandemic? It varies, but we could use the global estimates from the World Health Organization. One in five – 22.1 per cent – of the adult population in conflict-affected areas have mental health problems. We don’t have data on children, but we can assume it is even a bit higher, because children are more susceptible. That baseline is around two to three times higher than the level in people at large, according to other studies. Many people assume that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the…

The East African: East Africa Must Prioritise Women, Girls’ Protection During Covid-19 and Beyond

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For the better part of 2020, East African countries have been battling to contain the spread of Covid-19 with over 46,633 cases reported across Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda as of September 6. Among them, Kenya and Rwanda account for the larger chunk with 35,103 and 4,349 cases reported in the respective States. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda responded by imposing lockdown, curfews, advising non-essential State and non-State personnel to work from home, shutdown of learning institutions as well as cancellation of international flights and social distancing restrictions to contain spread of the virus.  However, some countries in the region downplayed the existence of the virus, thereby risking the lives of their citizens and of the neighbouring countries. In all, the Covid-19 pandemic has not only presented health, economic and social challenges but also changed lives in many different ways; across the East African block, the lives of women, girls, gender non-conforming groups and people living with disability…

VOA: Refugee Families Face Unique Struggles With Online School

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Samuel Lavi knew he'd have to find unique ways to stay connected to refugee families when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Valencia Newcomer School. Parents and students speak more than a dozen languages, and they'd need help navigating the technology around remote learning. So the gregarious teaching assistant, himself a Congolese refugee, created group chats on the WhatsApp messaging app in Swahili and some of the other six languages he knows. To ensure parents who can't read or write could participate, Lavi taught them to record and share small audio clips. With remote classes now underway at the K-8 school for refugee children in Phoenix, Lavi helps students connect from home with loaned iPads so they can learn English before transferring to mainstream schools. "If a student has a problem, I will drive to their home and help them log in," said Lavi, 27, who began working at the school shortly after being resettled in Phoenix four years ago. "I…

UNHCR: Finding wellbeing through yoga at a Kenyan refugee camp

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Rita Brown raises her smartphone in the air to check for connectivity as she rolls her purple training mat out on the floor. She then opens the Facebook app on her phone before positioning it on a chair in front of her. In a minute, she will go live. Dressed in a bright yellow vest that complements her smile, Rita is ready for her online yoga class which draws hundreds of refugee and Kenyan viewers. She is soon joined by Sylvain, one of her new yoga students. They exchange pleasantries, warm up and get into the mountain pose, one of yoga’s standard positions. The class is on. Sylvain, a Congolese refugee, picked interest in yoga after watching Rita’s sessions on Facebook before reaching out to her for one-on-one classes. “My mind is always at ease and I feel refreshed after every session.” “I feel a change in my body,” he says. “My mind is always at ease and I feel…
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