The World Health Organisation inaugurated its 152nd office, in Manama, on Monday, months after the capital became the first Arab metropolis to be dubbed a "Healthy City" by the body.
Happening under “extraordinary circumstances”, the launch is testament to Bahrain's commitment to combating the pandemic and developing health services through information sharing, Bahrain's Minister of Health Faeqa bint Saeed Al Saleh said at a press conference.
“The WHO was monitoring the response of member states and what was accomplished in Bahrain deserves to be acknowledged,” said WHO Representative and Head of Office in Bahrain Dr Tasnim Atatrah at the conference.
Dr Atatrah praised Bahrain's early response to control coronavirus infection rates and increase testing breadth and frequency, resulting in daily recorded cases falling 100 per day from more than 3,000 in May 2021.
Bahrain implemented “a comprehensive package of public health measures”, through monitoring cases, repurposing old resources and infrastructure for Covid-19 testing, research, treatment and vaccination, she said.
“Efforts have also been made to ensure the full continuity of essential healthcare services to the people who require treatment for other health conditions and who also need to continue receiving the different services,” Dr Atatrah said.
“Manama became the first capital in the Middle East to receive [the Healthy City award], adding a new international achievement to the kingdom’s rich track record.”
The WHO's Healthy City programme is designed to raise consciousness of health and well-being and is awarded to cities that can show they are striving to do that.
Bahrain has so far approved six Covid-19 vaccines and has expanded vaccination efforts to those between the ages of 12 and 17. It has vaccinated over 1 million people, equivalent to 70 per cent of its population, and is carrying out an average of 20,000 tests per day.
Important strides in health care are also being taken in regard to mental health, which has deteriorated during the pandemic.
A 2020 report by the Psychiatric Hospital of Bahrain and York University of Toronto in Canada showed 30 per cent of people with signs of depression, 30.8 per cent showing symptoms of stress and 18.2 per cent with anxiety.
Of the 1,115 respondents, the study found that young adults and students were the most affected.
To combat the impact of lockdowns and isolation on its population, Bahrain teamed up with local experts to launch a number of initiatives that cater specifically to the psychological needs of its residents and citizens.
One programme, part of an online initiative by Bahrain NGO Umatter, initially set up to reach 300,000 individuals aged between 25 and 45, is now being expanded to target children who are spending long days in front of screens for schooling while missing external socialisation.
“Umatter provides practical advice to people on how to deal with the present situation, featuring regular live online sessions in which mental health professionals and experts from around the globe offer support and guidance,” Manama’s governor, Shaikh Hesham bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, told The National.
“Part of Umatter is also providing a free, confidential, mental well-being questionnaire designed to help individuals check their emotional state of mind and offer them systemised immediate feedback and coaching tips.”
“This year Umatter will launch a community engagement campaign to address mental health barriers on the younger audience aged between 14 and 24 to encourage them to engage with mental health issues and create a movement to lower [social] barriers to mental health access,” Mr Al Khalifa said.
Mr Al Khalifa and his team are fielding calls from concerned parents reporting that their children are exhibiting other dangerous habits such as vaping and substance abuse.
He said it was easier when dealing with children face-to-face to notice which of them showed signs of unhappiness and abuse at home.
“When we see them on a screen now, we have begun to see things differently,” he said.
He said the Umatter programmes have stemmed from an understanding that happier individuals tend to be more productive and that mental well-being is a vital aspect to overall health.
A positive aspect that emerged from the community outreach programmes launched by the government, Mr Al Khalifa said, was public engagement.
“The people embraced our efforts and helped achieve our objectives by engaging with us online.”
In fact, social media became an integral portion of the overall method deployed by authorities in reaching different communities and resolving matters.
“Bahrain has been keen to enhance the digital transformation of all government services to enhance their quality and expand the range of electronic and technologic outcomes,” health minister Al Saleh said.
Mr Al Khalifa said the use of mobile applications has stretched across generations and facilitated the ease with which individuals are able to communicate their concerns to authorities.
“I have even seen my grandmother use WhatsApp every day to communicate and receive information,” he said.
The 444 hotline to answer coronavirus-related questions has fielded over five million calls since its launch in February 2020. The Be Aware mobile application enables infected individuals to follow up with professionals while maintaining their privacy and confidentiality.
Mr Al Khalifa also said Bahrain’s use of “Online Majlis” as a platform to hear from ordinary Bahrainis and residents has helped convey their needs directly to decision makers.