Calls made to eliminate stigma associated with COVID-19

The increased social stigma against COVID-19 patients and health workers has been identified as a potential trigger for mental health illnesses.

Educational and awareness raising programs are being recommended as solutions towards the reduction of social stigma against COVID-19 patients.

Family members whose loved ones have succumbed to COVID-19 have said their lives have since been “stressful” as other extended family members and neighbors are treating them like outcasts.

Thandeka Nkomo*, said the stigma from other family members has caused so much distress and anxiety following the death of her uncle.

“The stigmatisation against COVID-19 patients is overwhelming. Most of our family members have left us alone at a time when we need their support the most. The whole experience with COVID-19 has been stressful and draining and has left us helpless,” she said.

Nkomo added: “Right now my babies are a bit worried too because their neighbor friends are no longer allowed to play with them and I think that it is affecting them negatively.”

In an interview with Infocus News, Bulawayo based Mental Health Practitioner Mr. Donald Jamani said mental health illnesses are likely to increase if social stigma is not dealt with.

“There is need to create messages that will teach everyone that they are at risk of the virus. When people realize that everyone can contract the virus then we will have less chances of stigma. COVID-19 patients should not be addressed as victims. The issue of publishing names for COVID-19 positive patients will surge levels of stigma and should be discouraged.”

“There is also need to adopt a Rights Based Approach whereby patients who show mild symptoms of the virus should not be put in quarantine centers but should be isolated at home to get some help there,” added Dr Jamani.

Dr Jamani said women are most likely to experience psychological breakdowns due to their care giving role towards infected family members.

“Women take care of their families and this role, coupled with financial stress, is a strain to their emotional well being. If they are not educated about COVID-19 they are likely to have mental break downs,” he said.

Another mental health practitioner Nompilo Ncube concurred by stating that the general public have partial knowledge concerning COVID-19.

Ncube called on society to deliberately lead in the process of circulating information that seeks to enhance knowledge around the novel coronavirus disease.

*Not her real name

Source: Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD)