STOP COVID-19 RELATED STIGMATIZATION AND DISCRIMINATION


It appears the culture of stigmatization and discrimination is creeping in Ghana’s efforts in fighting against the deadly coronavirus, which has brought the world to its knees and ought to be nipped in the bud. Stigma and discrimination are heightened by insufficient knowledge about how the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is transmitted and treated, and how to prevent infection. Where stigma and discrimination exist, there is the tendency for people to be labeled, stereotyped, separated, and/or experience loss of status and discrimination because of a potential negative affiliation with the disease.  

In Ghana, many people have lost their lives due to stigma and discrimination, rather than the disease that forms the basis for the stigma. Persons living with HIV/AIDS are mostly affected. Health workers stigmatize their colleagues who work at the ART units and also PLHIV. The situation is worse at the community level. Some families cannot simply contend to accommodate their own when they become victims of diseases like HIV and AIDS. 

The novel coronavirus that has become a global pandemic exposes certain groups of people to stigmatization within the context of Ghana. Ghanaians and foreigners who have recently returned to Ghana from countries with highly recorded cases of the virus in recent times are bearing the brunt of stigmatization. Chinese nationals are particularly stigmatized because the disease traces its origin to China. There is a recent story in Ghana where all passengers aboard a ‘trotro’ disembarked because of the presence of two Chinese citizens in the vehicle. Perhaps, the confusion, anxiety, fear, and even panic, among Ghanaians is justified. Most of the people who have tested positive for the virus are Ghanaian nationals with the history of having traveled outside the country as well as foreign returnees.

Frontline health workers who handle coronavirus patients are not unsusceptible. The lamentations of a nurse (name withheld) in the frontline of battling COVID-19 sums it all when he asks rhetorically “is it wrong that I have decided to take care of the sick? This pandemic that we are battling as health care professionals must not be taken lightly. This is the time that we need family and societal support in fighting this dangerous disease. Why do you stigmatize me because I have a COVID-19 patient in my facility or am nursing a COVID-19 patient?” More worrying is the fact that people from the epicenters (Greater Accra, Tema, and Kumasi) are being stigmatized when they travel to other parts of the country, especially in regions that have not recorded a coronavirus case.

On April 3, 2020, one of Ghana’s most credible media outlets, Myjoyonline, reported a fierce protest from residents of Tema West to a proposed offer of a 100-bed capacity to be used as an isolation centre for COVID-19 patients by the leader of the Titi-Ofei Ministries, Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei. According to the residents, “the disease is highly contagious and using the facility which is not isolated could expose them to the dreaded pandemic.” This compelled the Bishop to issue a statement withdrawing the offer. “I wish to assure my cherished neighbours that the offer was done in good faith. However, in the spirit of good neighborliness I have decided to offer other forms of assistance in the fight against COVID-19.” (https://bit.ly/2yu8L05)

Unfortunately, unwarranted harmful stereotyping of stigma and discrimination may tend to make people hide their illness which, could potentially contribute to more severe health problems. It could also discourage the populace from immediately seeking healthcare and the adoption of healthy behaviors, including voluntary screening, testing, and quarantine. 

While urging citizens to adhere to the precautionary measures, there is a need for all and sundry to speak up and refrain from stigmatization and discrimination. We all have a role to play in the fight against coronavirus: governments, citizens, media, key influencers, and communities have an important role to play in preventing and stopping the stigma. 

According to Dr. Milton Lum, a general surgeon in Cumberland, Maryland, “the primary success factor in any response to communicable diseases is trust in the healthcare system – the central feature of which is the maintenance of the confidentiality of the sufferer.”

 SOURCE: SEND West Africa

By Adamu Mukaila, P4H CSO Advisor SEND GHANA