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COVID-19: Let us all fight health and social stigma

By Miria. K. Nowamukama

Added 3rd August 2020 08:02 PM

This unfortunate attitude may demoralize them, thus discouraging them from playing their key role as front line workers.

COVID-19: Let us all fight health and social stigma

Miria. K. Nowamukama

This unfortunate attitude may demoralize them, thus discouraging them from playing their key role as front line workers.

HEALTH  | COVID-19

Globally, there has been a combined effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic through preventive measures such as country border closures, national lockdowns, schools closures, lobbying for donations and increased awareness campaigns through special COVID-19 messages, adverts and songs.

However, there has also been a negative communal reaction to the COVID-19 patients and the frontline health workers.

These have been discriminated against to a shocking extent, that even the quarantine areas, such as hotels, have been abandoned by the public.

This has given rise to a serious threat of health and social stigma that is absolutely unethical, immoral and a wicked behavior if not dealt with, this is not only likely to hinder health-seeking behavior and healthcare delivery but may also lead to serious adverse effects in terms of massive transmission of this virus and long-term individual health impacts, such as intense stress and chronic mental disorders.

A touching story was shared a couple of months ago on one of the media plate forms about an old woman from Wakiso who had recovered from COVID-19 but claimed that she had been given the worst kind of welcome  by her community when she was discharged from hospital.

As a result, she had lost all hope and wished she had died from the disease instead. She expressed her agony related to the discrimination and stigmatization that she suffered, which took the form of her not being allowed to buy merchandise from the nearby shops and being denied other services.

Life became even harder for her and her family when she was evicted from her village. Similarly, some doctors have been forced by their landlords to vacate their houses owing to their status as frontline workers, dampening their enthusiasm to participate in the COVID-19 fight.

However, this raises a number of questions: Who is to blame for COVID-19? Is it the victims that had travelled to the worst affected countries or the governments that took long to act when the virus was confirmed to have taken a strong hold in some countries?

The public has frequently blamed truck drivers for the spread of the disease. However, one needs to consider the risk such people undertake to see to it that the economy is sustained through supply chain maintenance.

Similarly, the health workers who have risked their lives to save other lives out there shouldn't be blamed for anything.

They in other wards deserve to be given credit as frontline workers who have given their all for others' sake rather than being harassed by the communities in which they live.

This unfortunate attitude may demoralize them, thus discouraging them from playing their key role as front line workers, probably resulting in the proliferation of the disease owing to negligence.

Hence there is a need for synergy and collaborative effort to eradicate stigma through contextualized education campaigns by our community gatekeepers.

The population ought to know that COVID-19 does not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, age, religion, status or colour. It is neither a disease of the poor nor of the rich.

Rather, it is an infectious pandemic with pneumonia-like symptoms whose causative agents, such as respiratory droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces, make everybody vulnerable to its spread.

We, therefore, need to embrace the fact that it is a global pandemic and then all join in the fight against it. Let us all be accountable and work together to eradicate this serious vice from our communities.

The principle of non-maleficence condemns any act that causes more harm to these victims. Hence my humble appeal to everyone to support the COVID-19 victims emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially until they can appreciate the new lease of live they have just got and bounce back from such a trauma.

Let us give them hope and a warm welcome and reason to live again.

Miria. K. Nowamukama - Administrator

Works with Makerere University School of Public Health

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