Pandemic highlights need for psycho-social services

WHILE the relationship between government and its civil society partners has made for an effective response to the COVID19 crisis, the mental health impact of the pandemic showed the glaring lack of relevant services in Fiji.

While on the ground the physical response to the pandemic was visible and swift, behind the scenes the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation’s psycho-social response rode on the back of an existing mechanism.

MWCPA Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa said it was a mechanism set up for other issues but an efficient working relationship meant partners quickly adapted it to help those suffering mentally and emotionally as a result of the impact of the new coronavirus.

Two partners, key to the effective delivery of the ministry’s support to women and children is the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and Medical Services Pacific.

“The Ministry does not have a specific unit that runs psycho social support. We rely on our non govt spectrum, and the two partners sitting right here in relation to the organisation,” Ms Vuniwaqa said.

She was speaking at a press conference held to highlight the unseen impact of COVID19.

MSP, set up several years ago by current MWCPA permanent secretary Jeniffer Poole is the country’s only non government sex crimes facility and to which the government’s outsources some services.

It also runs the government’s Children Helpline 1325 which is manned by a team of trained counselors who directly respond to children in distress.

Director Ashna Shanheen said psycho-social was a part of a range of services the organisation worked hard to be able to provide during the lockdown period.

“There’s case management we have to follow through for access to justice to be served. It’s not just the psycho-social of things, there’s a whole lot involved and there are  services out there and more can be done.”

“At the moment we have what we have and we depend on each other to make sure services and justice is served.”

At the FWCC where the focus is on women who are victims of violence, Director Shamima Ali said the organisation’s like others in the ministry’s CSO partnership have given staff training to deal with the newer issues.

There is never enough of that (psychosocial support) and with so many issues the situation in this time has exacerbated with time.”

“While we can provide that much there is much more  that can be done with NGOs. But there can never be enough.”

Minister Vuniwaqa while praising the CSO partners said it was important to remember that the end of the day, the role of providing support to children lay with their parents.

“At the end of the day the prime responsibility is on parents. A lot of issues children are facing like missing their friends are some of the things we as parents should be able to deal with like social support that is parental responsibility.”

“First and foremost its when parental responsibility is lacking then we tend to see an increase of issues with children.”

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