According to UNICEF, stigmatization has been very prevalent during COVID-19 era. This form of stigmatization simply means stereotyped, unfortunate labelling or discrimination against those who were treated for the disease and recovered. When such persons return to their homes, they still experience loss of status because of real or perceived links with the disease.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O) defines stigma in the context of health as “the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. In an outbreak, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease.”
Such treatment can negatively affect those with the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends, and communities. People who don’t have the disease but share other characteristics with this group may also suffer from stigma. The WHO confirms that the COVID-19 has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.
In Ghana, those who are vulnerable to social stigma are those who have lived abroad and are returning home, those who had the infection but have recovered, healthcare givers, and sometimes, family members of these persons. This has the tendency of causing psychological trauma to both the recovered persons and their families.
‘Director’ on the COVID-19 sick bed.
A director of health services in the Northern region, name withheld describes his experience after diagnosis as “hell after the COVID-19 bed.”
An event on 26th March, 2020 turned the ones lively medical doctor to a shadow of himself. He believes he got infected following a visit by his friend who returned from the diaspora. He spent twenty-seven (27) days at the Tamale isolation and treatment centre.
“The first two weeks were very serious for me because I had severe fever while I coughed regularly with headache and difficulty in breathing”, he told Prince Kwame Tamakloe.
With smiles on his face, he disclosed that, “I was handled with so much care and professionalism with continuous reassurance from the doctors and nurses on duty at the facility.”
But what he did not anticipate was being shun by his neighbours. His absence from the neighbourhood was noticed by which triggered the spread of information about his health.
After the COVID-19 bed.
Reality set in after his arrived home.
“After I returned, my immediate neighbours who usually come to visit me anytime I return from a journey, this time round I didn’t see any of them coming around me so I asked my wife if there was an issue while I was away but she told me someone asked whether it was true that I had contracted COVID-19.”
“As if that wasn’t enough discrimination, my children were constantly avoided in the neighbourhood to the extent that my older son was denied entry into a shop where he was going to buy milk even in his face mask”, he lamented
The doctor reveals it was a choice between to hang his medical boots or to relocate but took solace in the fact that the working and educational environment of him and his children were receptive.
“I tried to resign from the Ghana Health Service or better still go on transfer but my wife stopped me. My world almost came crushing down because I don’t know why I should be stigmatized after contacting a disease while trying to save other people’s lives.”
Even after a year of recovery, the subtly gazing by neighbours continues unabated anytime he finds himself among them.
Effects of stigmatization.
Social stigma creates distress, xenophobia (in the case of foreigners) and, more seriously, those who have been infected with the virus try to hide the infection for a long time for fear of being stigmatized when people know of it and that is dangerous for every society.
Meanwhile the Ghana Health Service in the Northern region has entreated Ghanaians especially those in the Northern region to desist from stigmatizing persons they suspect of contacting the Corona Virus disease.
Rahinatu Yakubu a member of the Northern Regional Health Promotion team on COVID-19 explained the steps in testing.
“We have a special way of identifying samples of suspected cases during testing and not necessarily using the names of the person.”
“Once upon a time; even T.B patients were been stigmatized but what the public must know is that stigmatization can lead to trauma and if care is not taken the person may even commit suicide.”
Ghana’s present Covid-19 situation.
Ghana’s COVID-19 confirmed case count as of fifth June, 2021 stood at 94,188 with 786 deaths while recoveries and discharged stood at 92,309 taking the country’s active cases to 1,093. The Northern region has a total case count of 1,654 with 1,625 recoveries and discharges. The total number of deaths stood at 29 with no new case recorded.
Meanwhile, a total of 852,047 persons have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine while 376,169 persons have fully been vaccinated in Ghana as at 5th June, 2021.
This story is supported by Journalist for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project.
By: Prince Kwame Tamakloe|www.zamireports.com|Tamale.