The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) is a not-for-profit company that provides free and voluntary treatment and counselling to individuals with a gambling problem and their immediate family members. Executive director Sibongile Simelane-Quntana explains how it shifted its strategy when the country went into lockdown.
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has caused hardship to many people economically, socially and most importantly the impact it has had on people’s health and with several people succumbing to it.
According to statistics from World Health Organisation (2020), Covid-19 has resulted in more than 1.24 million deaths worldwide and more than 48.8 million cases of people infected with the Coronavirus have been recorded with 32.3 million recoveries.
According to statistics from the South African Department of Health (2020), South Africa has recorded the most cases of Covid-19 in Africa with a tally of 734,175 active cases, 19,749 deaths and 675,593 recoveries as at November 2020.
The first case was confirmed on 5 March 2020 and ten days later, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and the national lockdown started on 26 March.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease itself. It has resulted to widely spread recession in many countries with South Africa forming part of the list of countries that suffered a recession. Even though the South African economy was already in a technical recession before the lockdown, the lockdown itself further pushed South Africa into recession. Some 2.2m jobs are estimated to have been lost as a result of the lockdown which was forced by the Covid-19.
When South Africa entered hard lockdown in March 2020, some land-based gambling operators particularly the casinos, were closed. Only online betting was legally available.
It is therefore not a surprise that during lockdown, many gambling-related advertisements began to air. According to the American Gaming Association, gambling companies increased the advertisement of online casino games and play on television and social media as they were losing revenue due to the lockdown and a means to entice gamblers.
The increase in gambling-related advertisements on South African television coincided with several people applying for self-exclusion psychoeducation therapy to have their ban uplifted.
In terms of the National Gambling Act, Act 7 of 2004 as amended, individuals who want to restrict their gambling activities can do so. It is, however, important to mention that at the moment we do not have sufficient data to support the increase in the number of self-bans ended, and the advertisements during lockdown.
This, however, prompted the Foundation continued offering treatment and counselling to those in need. We also realised that most people who were in treatment at the time of lockdown will be impacted the most.
It was therefore imperative for the Foundation that our patients remain in treatment. As a result we had to swiftly move to online treatment methods, such as online counselling.
The use of remote consultations was also advocated by the Health Profession Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as alternative healthcare during the crisis. The HPCSA had to amend its ‘telehealth’ guidelines as a means of delivering patient/client care.
These guidelines allowed the Foundation’s counsellors to continue with treatment by observing all treatment protocols and ensured that clients still receive proper treatment and support remotely through telephone calls, Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp video calls.
Social media campaigns on responsible gambling messaging were intensified, and family members of individuals with a gambling problem were provided with information on how they can support their loved ones who might exhibit anxiety because of limited interactions with counsellors.
We were also aware that those addicted might resort to either online betting, or online gambling, which is illegal in South Africa. To protect punters and minimise the potentially harmful effects of illegal gambling, we used targeted the social media strategies to educate and create awareness about the dangers of illegal gambling and consequences associated with illegal gambling.
The Foundation in partnership with the Gambling Industry, Provincial Gambling Regulators and IManage Africa adopted a proactive approach considered to be the outward expression of important structural change. Given the increase on the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa as well as the related deaths, the Foundation extended its treatment and counselling service to the South African community for free grief counselling particularly those who have lost their loved ones.