CAIRO – 29 June 2020: In March 2020, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population launched an initiative aiming at protecting the citizens' mental health from the impact of COVID-19. Hotlines were announced urging citizens to callout for help whenever needed.
Despite the relatively positive feedback on the initiative, the pandemic still could impact the society on many other levels. According to the United Nations, COVID-19 did not only cost humanity deaths and financial losses, but also caused more hunger, more children being deprived from education and more violence against women.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, we are seeing an alarming pattern. The poorest and most vulnerable members of society are being hardest hit, both by the pandemic and the response. I am especially concerned about the well-being of the world’s children,” Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said in a statement, April 16
He added, “Almost all students are now out of school…Children in countries with slow and expensive internet services are severely disadvantaged… With children out of school, their communities in lockdown and a global recession biting deeper, family stress levels are rising. Children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.”
"The year 2020 was supposed to be women’s year, crucial to achieving gender equality," another policy brief for the United Nations issued April 19 explains. However, with the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, “even the limited gains of the past decades are at risk. This pandemic deepens existing inequalities, and reveals the weaknesses in social, political and economic systems that in turn increase the effects of the pandemic.”
Accepting the new normal
With the rising numbers, tightening measures, and expanding the home isolation, people dealt with the new normal their own way. Homes turned into offices during working hours, and social clubs for children afterwards.
Heba is a mother of two children, 5 and 2 years old. Sharing her experience with Egypt Today, she said that the last four months have been so hard for her. “I suffered from insomnia, stress and anxiety more than usual.”
“I told my kids the truth since the first minute, especially the older one. I told him that the world is suffering a pandemic and that we need to stay home to protect ourselves,” Heba added. She explained that she gave her kids more exceptions and privileges than normal days just to help them overcome the idea of being stranded at home all that time.
“I bought all the toys I could find, didn’t push them to study, eat or sleep at certain times. I allowed them to talk more with family and friends. I knew that was hard for them and tried all my best to help,” she said.
As a working mother, the load was quite heavy, as she needed to do all these duties and still work from home.
Most people suffered psychologically from the effects of the epidemic, not only mothers. Many people called the government’s hotlines seeking help to overcome the feeling of being threatened or fearing for a loved one.
Sharing her story on social media, Nourallah Aziz wrote on her account on April 5 that she called the Ministry of Health's hotline seeking support as she was suffering from anxiety. Although she did it partly out of curiosity, she got a real consultation.
“I called at 4 p.m. , and the phone was busy. I called again at 4:05; an operator answered and asked me about my age and how I am feeling. He Then put me on hold and another person answered (I guess a psychologist) gave me some tips to overcome pandemic anxiety and taught me how to do some breathing exercises, then he told me I should expect a call from a doctor soon to check if I need anti-anxiety or sleep aid drugs!!! I asked him what if someone is feeling really bad and is not financially capable to pay for therapy, he said they go with their ID to Abbasseya Hospital and pay LE 1 EGP to receive services from the doctors dedicated to Covid-19 panic issues,” Aziz stated.
She added on her account, “One hour later, I received a call from Dr. Haidy (didn’t catch her last name). She is a Psychiatrist, who gave me a free phone session! She was very nice and professional. She asked me to call again if I am having any negative thoughts!”
“Give and help... If you can!”
“W are humans, give what you have to help if you can. Give time, effort and consultation,” Nancy Abdel-Hadi, co-founder and CEO of One4 All coronavirus initiative told Egypt Today.
One4All is a multi-stakeholder nation-wide private sector initiative that started to help and support people against the coronavirus impact. “The initiative consists of private sector, start-ups and civil society. All of us are non-governmental entities but work under the supervision and with the support of the government,” Abdel-Hadi said.
“We know that the government won’t be doing everything all alone; no one is capable of doing this. They launched hotlines to support people psychologically, but at the end, there are 100 million citizens in Egypt. Every help counts,” Abdel-Hadi added.
She explained that the initiative track doesn’t depend basically on raising money, but rather on spreading real information, giving free consultations trough partners of the initiative and providing psychological backup and support.
“We offer different kinds of help; we discuss grieve that comes as a result of losing loved ones during the pandemic, we share information offered by credible experts and help people quarantined at home to receive the right information without leaving their homes,” Abdel-Hadi explained.
She affirmed that the initiative will continue to further grow every day, with a higher number of participants from the Arab world and with everyone, who is willing to share and help for free, to make the world a better place.