Let’s avoid stigma against COVID-19 victims

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Dr Akwasi Osei

The Mental Health Authority (MHA) has called on the public not to stigmatize people affected with COVID-19, urging all not to panic, as it is not a death sentence.

The Authority said as Ghana’s containment measures were reaping fruits with low mortality rate of 0.78 per cent compared to the world trend of 4 per cent, the concern, however, was the stigma associated with persons with Covid-19.

In a release signed by Dr. Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive, MHA, and issued to the Ghana News Agency on Friday in Accra, it said stigma is when one is tagged for shame and discrimination for having a condition.

It arises out of fear, the fear is from ignorance and the ignorance leads to avoidant behaviour and attitude of rejection.

It said “when you stigmatise, you are telling us that you do not have enough information about the condition. Seek knowledge.”

According to the release, “stigma has three forms: the public stigma which you receive from the public because you have the condition; self-stigma which you associate with yourself because you have it; and association or courtesy stigma, which others closed to you receive because of your condition.”

It said stigma puts affected persons under stress and this could worsen their plight and make it difficult to improve from the Covid-19 and if they improve, could deter them from taking active part in enjoying their lives, from engaging in their daily business, and could worsen any underlying medical or mental health condition.

It further stated that stigma could prevent people from seeking help knowing that they would be stigmatised.
Then they would harbour the condition, suffer the consequence in silence and spread it to others. This would defeat our efforts to combat this enemy, the coronavirus.

“It is now certain that for the next couple of weeks and perhaps months, Covid-19 is the new visitor we have got to live with. The number of cases is expected to increase as the test results of the backlog of samples taken trickle in and enhanced contact tracings and testing are done.”

“A survivor gave his story that after his recovery, he and his family had known no peace because of stigma. A health worker has also reported that a landlady of a colleague she visited in uniform threatened to evict her for ‘you nurses go to hospital and bring the COVID-19 disease to us’. A taxi driver refused to take her in her uniform.”

While urging all to stop public stigma, the release also urged people affected to also watch against self-stigma, increase their resilience to ignore the public stigma and tell themselves that they were blessed to have survived and no amount of stigma from the public could discourage them from enjoying their health and freedom from the virus.

“Keep observing the personal hygiene principles of hand washing, hand sanitization and social distancing. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, eat healthily, stay at home as much as possible and wear your face-mask when going out.

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