The outbreak of the Covid-19 a global pandemic has caused so much fear, understandably so because Covid-19 is such an infectious disease; hence, the anxiety, fear and concern are not quite misplaced. World over, governments are doing all they can to stop the spread of the disease which has caused so much havoc on the world economy and social relations.
With no cure for Covid-19 in sight yet, it is not strange that rumours and misinformation run rampant. Stereotypes have risen about people who have or may have the disease. For instance, there seems to be a belief among some Malawians who think, just because they live in the suburbs, they cannot catch the virus. Then there are some in the remotest places who think, Covid-19 is for the rich people in the city and not rural areas.
Also, some people worry that individuals who have recently completed quarantine have Covid-19 and are contagious, but there is no current evidence to suggest that’s the case. There is so much misinformation, myths and stigma that I feel this itself threatens the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
Blaming and shaming groups in this way can be hurtful and dangerous. It makes people targets for misplaced anger and hostility. It also creates hardships and divisions that hamper the response to the pandemic.
There are many people who after successfully winning the fight against Covid-19, face stigma in their communities and workplaces. It is this stigma associated with the Covid-19 that is making people hide when they are sick and also delay in seeking treatment.
The last thing anyone who has survived Covid-19 needs is to be blamed, shamed and stigmatised. This delays their complete healing. For those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, they too have to be supported because some of them, the death of their loved means their whole life has crumbled.
Stigma affects the emotional or mental health of stigmatized persons or groups and the communities they live in. Stigma robs individuals of opportunities that define quality life ranging from satisfactory health care to affiliation with a diverse group of people. It also hurts those who are trying to battle their challenge, it hurts those who lost loved ones due to the condition or are trying to support their loved ones as they cope with the condition.
One thing that I have observed is that the stigma is coming from a place of ignorance—lack of knowledge about how Covid-19 spreads, a need to blame someone, fears about disease and death, and gossip that spreads rumours, myths and misinformation.
No single person or group of people are more likely than others to spread Covid-19. Public health emergencies, such as this pandemic, are stressful times for people and communities. Let’s care and support each other.