FORTY-four government officials received mental health and psychosocial support training from the World Health Organization ahead of the return of about 180 000 returnees from South Africa who had Zimbabwe Exemption Permits.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
With the deadline for the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits expiry looming, mental health disorders such as depression and even drug and substance abuse among others are anticipated.
Zimbabweans reportedly make up South Africa’s largest group of immigrants, with about 800,000 living in the country, many for decades but not all of them legally and doing low skilled jobs.
South African authorities have granted about 178 000 ZEPs but stopped renewing them, announcing a June deadline for Zimbabweans to get a critical skills visa or leave the country.
Speaking at a handover ceremony of cholera kits and a vehicle for mental health services at the NatPharm mega-warehouse, WHO Zimbabwe Country Representative Prof Jean-Marie Dangou said the training will help them deal with the returnees.
“In addition to the support for preparedness and response to health emergencies, WHO is also working with the government and within a broader UN framework to support preparedness to receive 178, 000 returnees who will be affected by the expiry of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits from South Africa. To this end, forty-four government officials were trained to provide mental health and psychosocial support when they eventually deal with the returnees,” he said.
He also said the WHO has had other initiatives such as the special initiative on mental health.
“We are also supporting scaling up of mental health services in line with country priorities through the Special initiative on Mental Health (SIMH),” Prof Dangou said.
Prof Dangou added that the WHO under the Special Initiative on Mental Health has assisted Zimbabwe, “…in the development of mental health investment case, training in Mental Health Global Action Plan (mhGAP) for the provision of mental health services by non-expert health workers, QualityRights eTraining rollout, High level support of the WHO-inter-ministerial taskforce on development of drug abuse interventions. Rapid assessment of Mental Health services for Drug and substance use conducted and results presented to Drug and alcohol use inter-ministerial Technical Working Group, Introduction of mental health in the workplace through the Friendship Bench Problem Solving Therapy intervention, including WHO 10 000 steps a day initiative and Development of mental health services packages.”
In a speech presented at workshop last month in Bulawayo, Social welfare permanent secretary Simon Masanga said: “Sharpening our counselling skills is a way in which these committees (receiving the returnees) can be capacitated.
“This training will empower the frontline officers to be equipped with skills to handle the returnees upon and post arrival,” he said.
At the workshop, World Health Organisation (WHO) psychologist Dr Debra Machando said the relocation was regarded as a humanitarian crisis because “they are not relocating voluntarily, they are being deported”.