Shun stigmatisation and discrimination against covid-19 patients

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… recalls her journey after contracting covid-19

Perseverance Javangwe

As new coronavirus cases are confirmed each day, fear and misinformation continue to spread more rapidly than covid-19 itself. Ruth Maendese (not her real name) went through a torrid time when she contracted covid-19, through stigma and discrimination from the community. The emotional turmoil of her experience was devastating. Her landlord even asked her to vacate the premise without notice.

“This was the worst situation I have ever encountered in my life. This is the time that you will know whom your true friends are especially in the community in which you live. I can say this was a nightmare for me as I got arrows from left, right and centre starting from where I lodge going to the workplace and community. I really get emotional when I narrate my story to anyone as it was a tough time for me. It’s hard when you get discriminated at a time that you expect to receive love from the ones that are close to you and others who live around you.

“I can say that I received the worst kind of discrimination that you could ever imagine. My landlord asked me to leave his premise with immediate effect and the community started spreading wrong messages concerning my status at that moment and said all sorts of negative stuff about me and my situation. I can say at that moment I was the talk of the town. Ndakaseveswa sadza, kunwiswa doro, kurukiswa musoro, papi pasina kutaurwa nezvangu, hanzi musikana munaku warwara (I was humiliated everywhere I went),” said Maendese.

It has been observed that false or misleading claims in the media, buoyed by harmful stereotypes, have fueled discrimination and violence that revive painful histories of attributing disease outbreaks to marginalized groups. Health officials have taken note of the disturbing trend, cautioning that stigma and discrimination could undermine efforts to contain the outbreak.

“…I tested positive to covid-19 on the 12th of June 2020 and I think it lasted up to 3 weeks. I had started to develop some flu like symptoms, headache and a sore throat… I was stationed at one of our quarantine centres and I just thought it was wise to go for testing since I was working with positive returnees.

“… after the test, it made me feel dizzy and I would want to have some rest. I had to wait for 3 days before my positive results came out. The health team offered counselling and recommended that I self-isolate at the premise that I rent.

“Truly I was shocked since I thought that I was taking necessary precautions when I was at the centre. I had no option but to accept the reality and start working on fighting the virus in my system. I just said to myself I have to be strong, stop stressing and focus more on getting better. What I was afraid of the most was how the community will take it after they hear that I have tested positive.

Maendese also narrated on the types of medication and other traditional methods that healed her from the virus.

“For modern medicine was taking Amoxicillin and Chloropherimine to treat the symptoms that I had. On traditional medicine I prepared a mixture of lemon, zumbani (I don’t know the English word), guava leaves and gum tree leaves. I would boil these ingredients together and made sure that I drink at least 5 cups per day.

“I would also steam myself with hot water which had vicks and coarse salt in the morning and evening. I got psychosocial support from friends, the health team would regularly check on me and my employer was there for me in these hard times too. Not forgetting spiritual support from other women and men and I can say in these times you will really get close to God because he has the final word to this situation,” she said.

After healing Maendese wasn’t sure if she would be accepted back in the community that had recently discriminated against her. She did not know what to expect, however, some of her co-workers accepted her with open arms.

“I got two negative results consecutively after three weeks. I was happy at the same time afraid to get to the outside world. Was afraid of how people will look at me, what would they say? How will I react when they see me? Will they ran away from me and all sorts of questions ran through my mind. My close staff members were happy to see me in good health. Others were surprised to see me in good health as they had heard different versions of my situation. Some community members would run away from me as they were afraid that I would pass the virus to them.

“I’m happy to say that I’m physically strong now and that I’m a living testimony of the covid-19 pandemic and the negative effects that come with it. Please stay safe and observe all the necessary precautions and God bless you for dedicating yourselves in such a time like this,” she said, while also giving advice.

The humanitarian principles which have been found to be increasingly useful to this day are as old as the social principles and values. One such is the principle of humanity which emphasizes the respect and value of each human being despite their circumstances. Protection Principles demand the enhancement of people’s safety, dignity and rights and avoid exposing them to further harm, discusses protection risks, the importance of context analysis, the treatment of sensitive information and supporting community protection mechanisms

World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom once asked a question: “We have a choice. Can we come together to face a common and dangerous enemy? Or will we allow fear, suspicion and irrationality to distract and divide us?” To combat stigma and discrimination and achieve universal health coverage, we must not divide ourselves further. Ultimately viruses don’t discriminate on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

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