‘Covid-19 stigma now worse than that of HIV’

Health officials in Bulawayo say the stigma and discrimination around Covid-19 have grown worse causing people to shy away from seeking treatment.

Once people shy away from seeking medical attention they can potentially spread it to others as no efforts are made to curb the transmission.

The City’s Senior Health Promotion Officer, responsible for risk communication and community engagement in the response to Covid-19, Sitshengisiwe Siziba, said the challenge that was now emerging in the fight against Covid-19 was stigma and discrimination.

“Stigma is worse than the stigma and discrimination we faced with HIV and AIDS,” she said in an interview with CITE recently after a tour of Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospitals.

“Three decades have passed since we started talking about HIV and AIDS but now the stigma with Covid-19 is actually worse. We have challenges where patients actually don’t want to be admitted like we are here at Thorngrove.”

Siziba made an appeal to communities to support Covid-19 patients.

“Because if we don’t support them, people will hide once they suspect they have Covid-19 and that will actually fuel the spread of infection. At the moment we are educating people on the issues of stigma and discrimination which is the biggest challenge,” said the senior health promotion officer.

She noted that the city health’s services department had been working with different partners in relaying information to the community to reach out to as many members as possible.

“Even before we recorded our first case in Zimbabwe, when we heard about Covid-19 in China, we started relaying information to the community. We never thought we were going to have it as a country as a whole,” Siziba said.

She added that when Zimbabwe recorded its first Covid-19 case in March, the city’s health services department intensified its health education about the virus to communities.

“The most important information are the major preventative measures and these are wearing masks, washing of hands and where possible, sanitisation as well. We are also talking about physical distancing,” Siziba said.

Siziba also observed people were now fatigued by hearing of Covid-19 and were tired of practising prevention measures.

“You will realise we are still talking about Covid-19 from 2020 and we are now in 2021. We have realised there is fatigue in implementing the preventative measures in the community. People are really tired of wearing masks, tired of washing hands but we continue to give out that information,” she said.

“Studies have been done and show above 95 percent of information is available in the community but a major challenge is behavioural change.”

Meanwhile, the city designed a contract to make sure those with Covid-19 stick to isolation and quarantine protocols.

If patients who are asymptomatic (not showing Covid-19 symptoms but are positive) breach isolation protocols at home, they are taken to Elangeni Training Centre.

“We first do an assessment to see if it’s possible to isolate at home. If not, we isolate them at Elangeni Training Centre,” Siziba said.

“Some don’t follow protocols, you find people going to banks and not isolating. We usually do checks on clients isolating at home and at times you find them not home. Once they breach that protocol, we are forced to isolate them at an institution. But what is required really is support even from the family itself to make sure that the person isolates at home,” she said.

Siziba claimed they had received testimonies from people admitted at Elangeni “that it is the best place they can ever be because it is not like in a hospital where you are supposed to sit and do nothing. You are isolated in your own room and can bring whatever gadgets you need in that room.”

Divisional Environmental Health Officer in Charge of surveillance activities in the City, Nhlonipho Precious Sibanda, concurred that if people breached the contract, they would be liable to an offence.

“If people quarantine breach they are liable and can be charged with an offense. We also strongly tell those on quarantine and waiting for their results to stay at home. In the event that you are positive, we don’t worry much about where you have been, although we will still come and contact trace. We are saying, may people not breach isolation and quarantine protocols because those are drivers of transmission. Quarantine is also when someone has been tested but is waiting for their result and doesn’t know it,” she said.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)