The response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone led to a less fragmented health system and the development of more effective mental health care services in the country, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released on Thursday.
Prior to the outbreak, one specialist psychiatric hospital was available in Sierra Leone to meet the mental health needs of more than 7 million citizens. At the time, the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership (KSLP), a coalition of King’s Health Partners and three of the country’s leading health institutions, had plans to open additional mental health units across the country.
Plans for expanded mental health services were put on hold during the outbreak, and Sierra Leone’s only psychiatric hospital was closed to prevent the spread of Ebola. A treatment model forged at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, however, has served as a framework for new nurse-led health and psychosocial support services at inpatient and outpatient clinics, the report found.
“Our experience in Freetown has guided the establishment of other mental health units across the country; there are now 15 units across Sierra Leone,” Stania Kamara, a KSLP volunteer from the King’s Centre for Global Health and Health Partnerships, said. “The Ebola virus outbreak weakened an already fragile health system and disrupted existing plans to develop mental health services across the country. However, the emergency response provided the opportunity, resources and focus necessary to create new mental health units.”
More than 143 patients with a range of mental health conditions were seen from March 2015 to February 2016. Patients were experiencing conditions like mild distress and depression, anxiety disorders, grief and social problems, and psychosis that required medication.
“We hope that our experiences and the models applied will help others around the world successfully implement similar services within an emergency response,” Kamara said.