Who are we?

We are a multi-disciplinary team offering mental health support to healthcare workers in South Africa. Our committee members are from the South African Medical Association (SAMA), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), the South African Society of Anaesthetists (SASA), and are supported by the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA). The EMGuidance App and the Vulamobile App are providing technical and logistical assistance and an innovative digital platform.

Who are the national coordinators?

Caroline Lee – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (SASA)
Cassey Chambers - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (SADAG)
Rosanna Naidoo – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (SAMA)
Antoinette Miric – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (SASOP) (technical/database)

What is the aim of the initiative?

To allow healthcare workers and managers of healthcare workers to access emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. This initiative will develop as time passes, and the needs become apparent. Currently, we are providing training, webinars, psychoeducational information to healthcare workers. We are also offering individual and group support to healthcare workers and leaders and managers, drawing on our volunteer database. We are hoping to open a national telephone helpline, drawing from SADAGs vast experience.

Why work with managers and leaders?

There is solid evidence that psychologically savvy supervisors play a critical role in supporting the mental health of team members. Teams operating in even the most arduous of environments are more likely to function well, and avoid the onset of serious mental health difficulties, if their supervisors create the right team ethos. This ethos should not be about “positive attitudes” or heroics. Sober assessment of challenges, knowledge that team leaders are advocates for the working conditions of their teams, including safety issues such as PPE, testing, and adequate sleep, and good communication, create protective and productive environments.

How do Healthcare Workers access help?

Healthcare workers can go to this form coordinated by SAMA and request help. Or they can sign up for either the EMGuidance app or Vula app and follow the prompts on those platforms, which will enable them to contact our team.

How do I sign up to volunteer for the HWCN?

If you are a mental health practitioner, please sign up here to volunteer your services to assist healthcare workers.


Throughout the world, healthcare workers are on the frontline fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working in conditions, which place significant personal risk to their physical and mental health, while ensuring our communities receive the care they need. They form the backbone and the frontline of our healthcare response.

In China, more than 3 300 people with COVID-19 are frontline healthcare workers (4% of total) while in n Spain, 6 500 people infected are healthcare workers (13.6%). Looking after the health and wellbeing of the healthcare worker is challenging under normal circumstances. Now, amidst a global public health crisis, the strain is greatly compounded. The mental and physical toll COVID-19 is having on frontline health workers is rapidly becoming an epidemic.

Healthcare workers directly involved in the diagnosis, treatment, and care of COVID-19 patients are at risk of developing psychological distress and other mental health symptoms. Exposure to the virus, long working hours, psychological distress, looking after own family and challenges with home schooling, fatigue, and burnout are real hazards. Every new COVID-19 diagnosis means longer hours, less sleep, and increasingly irregular meals for our frontline workers, resulting in weakened immune systems and lower resilience.

As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on South Africa, healthcare workers at the frontline, while committed to fighting this disease and saving as many lives as possible, do not know if their health would be safeguarded.

The Healthcare Workers Care Network Initiative

“It is critically important right now to be as supportive as possible of doctors, nurses, healthcare support staff and allied medical personnel,” says Dr Caroline Lee, Convenor of the SA Society of Anaesthesiologists Wellness in Anaesthesia Support Group. “These are dedicated people who are committed to see all of us through the COVID-19 crisis. But they are also stressed, exhausted, deeply worried, and at risk.”

This initiative was born out of experiences in other countries battling this pandemic. Research highlights what effect COVID-19 is having on the mental health of healthcare workers. To pre-empt and prevent much of the accompanying tragedy that we are witnessing overseas, we are proactively implementing a free, online support service to all healthcare workers across the country to build a resilient healthcare workforce and to provide nationwide support. The initiative gives healthcare workers immediate access to help whenever they need it.

Learning from oversights and mistakes in other countries, we are well aware that the well-being and professional endurance of our healthcare frontline is key to our collective future. There is an urgent need for services to support them now and for many months after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. If the physical and psychological challenges healthcare workers face now are left unaddressed, the detrimental impact for both providers and patients will be substantial.

The Healthcare Workers Care Network is born of collaboration between the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), SA Medical Association (SAMA), Psychological Society of SA (PsySSA), SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), and the SA Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA).

It aims to offer all healthcare workers in need four free individual counselling sessions through online, telephonic or telehealth platforms where possible during the COVID-19 restrictions, across the public and private sectors.

The support team is made up of qualified professionals: psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and GPs with a particular interest in mental health, who volunteered to support healthcare workers and personnel with skills to alleviate fears and manage stresses around COVID-19 through free online or telephonic counselling sessions. They will provide psychological ‘first aid’.

Volunteer psychologists and psychiatrists can provide coaching, training and consultations to team leaders, head of departments, hospital and clinic staff, and managers to help them cope with their own, and their team members’ stress levels during this challenging time. The team is available to provide information, to provide group support, to help with psychological containment, and to discuss strategies to deal with staff and patients’ distressing emotional states.

The core members of the HWCN are proactively offering online training for non- healthcare staff in healthcare environments to empower people like line-managers, and reception staff to become more aware of mental health, and to identify warning signs of burnout, depression and PTSD earlier. Over 600 people have already been trained around mental health issues facing healthcare teams.

Support Services

The aim of the Healthcare Workers Care Network initiative is to mitigate the emotional impact of COVID-19 on clinicians so that they can continue working to save the lives of people who fall ill with the virus, through the following channels:

  • 24 Hour Helpline 0800 21 21 21 for telephonic counselling and crisis intervention run by volunteer psychiatrists and psychologists and SADAG counsellors
  • Training and support of more than 500 volunteer mental health professionals who will be supporting the network.
  • Dedicated SMS line for healthcare workers who do not have privacy for a telephonic or online conversation.
  • Dedicated website (set up, monthly uploads, etc.) with support services contact details, resources, psycho-education capability, guidelines, links and support information.
  • Online requests for support and counselling are accessible through the website, the SAMA page, the EMGuidance App as well as the Vulamobile App
  • An innovative digital platform for psycho-education, workshops, counselling, and training for hospital and clinic managers, heads of departments and line managers nationwide
  • Mental Health Crisis Intervention of individual healthcare workers when required (eg. Transports, emergency accommodation, medication, treatment, etc.)

The Healthcare Workers Care Network initiative is a strictly confidential service. The data of persons making use of the service will remain confidential and will not be shared with any third party. The HWCN will support and work with existing employee wellness platforms to eliminate duplication of services.

What Funding Will Be Used For

Donations to the Network Fund, will fund the logistical and operational costs of the initiative.

All psychiatrists and psychologists are volunteers and their services are provided pro-bono.

Costs include:

  • Set up and running of helpline and SMS lines
  • Case management, call backs and support for healthcare workers
  • Specialized positive contact support programmes for those in quarantine
  • Awareness, marketing and promotion of the network (like branded armbands, psycho-education brochures, posters, etc.).
  • Cover costs for emergency interventions if necessary, for healthcare professionals who have no resources: transport, emergency accommodation, medication and treatment.

This Fund will be used to promote healthcare workers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will need to be operative for at least the next 12 months.

Donations, to a separate bank account under the SADAG umbrella, qualify for tax deduction under Section 18A.


The Healthcare Workers Care Network initiative gives all healthcare workers immediate access to help whenever they need it. South Africa’s healthcare workers are more than our first responders - they will be our guides and community allies on the road to recovery once the epidemic ends. It is critically important right now to be as supportive as possible of doctors, nurses, healthcare support staff, and allied medical personnel. We need to ensure we support their mental health, provide crisis intervention and build resilience during these unprecedented times.

There is no health without mental health, and this is especially true now. The current crisis and the responses observed overseas, have demonstrated the importance of taking care of the health and wellness of the healthcare workers in ensuring a strong, robust and resilient healthcare system.


1 sadag3 mhcare3 mhcare5 sama2 sasop4 sasa6 psyssa