Fogarty grantee Dr. Manasi Kumar studies COVID impact on pregnant teens in Kenya
May / June 2020 | Volume 19, Number 3
Image courtesy of Dr. Manasi Kumar
Dr. Manasi Kumar has developed an animated video
intervention as part of her Fogarty project in Kenya studying
depression among pregnant teens, who have experienced
additional stress due to the pandemic.
By Susan Scutti
Fogarty research project studying depression in pregnant teens was disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, Kenyan scientist Dr. Manasi Kumar began examining how the pandemic was impacting that population. Her findings were sobering. Teens were hungry and they or their parents or partners had lost jobs. Gender-based violence had increased, while transportation and essential services had been severely disrupted. “Food insecurity is what has remained striking in my mind - going hungry for days when you are pregnant,” Kumar said. Compelled to act, she is helping Nairobi county establish a mental health help-line based on interventions she’d developed for her original project.
The University of Nairobi senior lecturer had hoped to build capacity by empowering health facility staff to implement parts of her Fogarty work but learned they first needed self-care guidance and sensitization training. “In fragile settings you have to do a lot of investment in the health care providers themselves,” said Kumar. After 18 months of staff development, Kumar was finally ready to tackle group psychotherapy for the pregnant teens. “The pandemic lockdown was announced on the very day I was supposed to start.”
Kumar believes the HIV epidemic provided Kenya and similar countries with a wealth of experience relevant to COVID-19, while emphasizing the importance of prevention and mitigation strategies. But translating past practices to fight new and future health crises requires research. Kumar is gathering relevant studies for a special journal issue she is co-editing that is focused on successes and challenges of policies and behavioral responses to COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries.
It’s important to consolidate the evidence around COVID-19 to inform policymakers, especially regarding psychological research, which is often neglected, she said. “I hope this pandemic conveys to global actors and leaders in low- and middle- income countries that mental health is a key component during a crisis.”
Kumar’s work is also supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
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