Venezuela COVID patients, exhausted doctors get mental health help from medical charity

CARACAS, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is providing mental health care for COVID-19 patients, their families and also medical staff in two public hospitals in Venezuela to support the country’s run-down health system.

They are organizing phone and video calls between the sick and their loved ones and even helping dying patients to say their goodbyes, Elizabeth Hernandez, who leads MSF’s effort at Caracas’ Lidice hospital, said.

She said they are providing one-on-one mental health consultations for doctors and nurses.

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“(Time) showed us that staying at home was not so easy, that patients needed something more than access to health services,” Hernandez said as she waited to begin a therapy session with a group of nurses. “Mental health is not always understood.”

The nurses, standing in a circle in a hospital garden, shared the best and worst moments of their week as part of the session. Many of them said the biggest problem was finding time to take breaks to help cope mentally with the long hours.

MSF has provided mental health support services in two hospitals in the northeast of capital city Caracas since 2020, with nine psychologists offering up to 30 appointments each week, Hernandez said.

Since Venezuela’s first cases of coronavirus in March 2020, the South American country has reported 485,974 infections and 5,447 deaths, though critics and academics warn the numbers could be much higher.

Public hospitals in Venezuela suffer frequent blackouts and routinely lack running water and basic equipment such as oxygen tanks, according to local medical associations.

The pandemic has taken its toll across Latin America. A study by the Universidad de Chile and Columbia University found high rates of symptoms linked to depression, as well as suicidal thoughts and psychological distress among healthcare professionals.

The study, supported by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), was based on interviews with 14,502 healthcare workers in 11 countries, including Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia, the PAHO said in a statement last month.

“Exhaustion often wins,” said intensive care physician Daniel Bruce, who works at Lidice hospital. “But our mental health team has helped us,” he said, referring to the MSF staff.

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Reporting by Vivian Sequera Writing by Oliver Griffin. Editing by Jane Merriman and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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