August 22, 2020

'Hope in a Time of Pandemic' Issue Spotlight #1: Physical and Mental Health

Last week, the MGA COVID-19 Response Task Force launched the report ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic – Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy Lens’. The report was born from a collection of stories and experiences of COVID-19 from around the Mercy World, tied together by a critical analysis of human rights and Catholic social teaching. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives, forcing us to question the shape of our futures post-pandemic, as we look forward with the hope of regeneration, sustainability and universal healthcare.

We are over five months into the global pandemic and many unanswered questions remain. According to current figures recorded by the WHO, the number of people who have contracted COVID-19 has almost hit 22 million and there have been over 775,000 deaths reported worldwide. As there is currently no vaccination, we must continue to rely on social distancing measures, good hygiene practices, mask wearing, crowd avoidance, and in some areas, lockdown orders, to promote public safety and control the spread of the virus.

What has been revealed in terms of physical and mental health:

  1. Unjust, weak healthcare systems - 

Reducing the virus’ rate of transmission continues to be of vital importance in order to prevent healthcare facilities becoming overwhelmed, as seen at the beginning of the outbreak. MGA’s report exposes the weaknesses and lack of resilience in healthcare systems across the Mercy World. We have witnessed overcrowding in hospitals, the creation of temporary morgues, cracks in global medical supply chains, and under-resourced healthcare facilities worldwide.

The capacities to cope with the alarming scale of infection in low- and middle- income countries are frighteningly poor and do not expand to those in marginalised groups. Globally, those in disadvantaged communities have less access to clean water, sanitation, and quality healthcare due to pre-existing systemic health inequalities. Resources are minimal and the costs of medicine have skyrocketed. 

A Mercy Partner from the Amazon states she “spent two days in the hospital. As there were not enough doctors and nurses to care for all the people, in those two days [she] saw more than 30 people die... It was horrible to hear the screams of relatives asking for help that they do not have the necessary medicines and resources to treat diseases with known cures no mind the respiratory needs of COVID-19(pg 7). We are being presented with the opportunity to learn from the lessons of our weak health systems and change the way we provide healthcare to underserved and vulnerable populations.

2. A mental health crisis -

MGA’s new report highlights that it is not only the health care facilities which are becoming overwhelmed but those working on the frontlines too. Frontline workers have been overworked, overburdened, and witnesses to great trauma and distress over the past seven months. Studies show that many may experience negative mental challenges and PTSD in the months to come. The Mercy World will continue to value the leadership, hard work and efforts of those on the frontline and to urge for improvements in monitoring their well-being going forward.

The pandemic of uncertainty which lingers across the world is triggering feelings of anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness. Mercy Sisters, Associates and Partners have described many emotional challenges and tests to their human resilience due to isolation, sadness, grief and loss over the past seven months. A Mercy Sister from the UK reflected on “the terrible anguish and suffering of the many millions all over the world grieving for loved ones who died alone and who they had not even been able to bury” (pg 8).

Social distancing and isolation measures which aim to protect our physical health, have challenged our immediate and future mental health. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health has called for the need for urgent mental health care action and investment as the pandemic has “exacerbated the failures of the status quo in mental health care.” Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing, affecting how we think, feel, act, handle stress, relate to others and make choices during an emergency. People around the Mercy World continue to respond with compassion and kindness to this crisis, and to advocate for health systems that care for people’s mental and physical health.

What are we being called to?

MGA’s report ‘Hope in a time of Pandemic - Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy Lens’ demands the promotion of universal healthcare, to allow all individuals and communities access to comprehensive, affordable, quality, and people-centred healthcare services. We are being presented with a historic opportunity to transform global health. By continuing to encourage the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must strengthen our health systems globally, and put pressure on States to achieve SDG 3 - ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should healthcare. Therefore, we must learn from the weaknesses and fundamental inequalities in our health systems in order to regenerate a future that is resilient, sustainable and inclusive for all.

Help keep yourself and others safe by following social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask in public.

Take care of your mental and emotional health, connect with others, and share gratitude for essential workers.

Spread the Word across your own social media platforms by sharing ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic’ and MIA Global Action’s infographic on COVID-19 and Physical and Mental Health on social media. Please engage with us on Twitter @MercyWorldwide and @MIAGlobalAction.

Learn More:

  • MGA COVID-19 Task Force: Hope in a Time of Pandemic - Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy lens -

  • World Bank Blogs: Supporting mental health and resilience in frontline COVID-19 (coronavirus) health care workers -

Messages to: Siobhan Golden - MGA Intern

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