Ghana currently (07/06/2020) has 9,638 confirmed COVID-19 cases out of which 3,636 have recovered whiles 44 have lost their lives according to Ghana Health Service. As the case count continues to rise, it has recently been reported that two of our 275 legislators as well as 13 other parliamentary staff have contracted COVID-19.
Though the news has now been authenticated, there were earlier attempts to discredit it. I described that in local parlance as ‘Yelepaato’ in Grune and in Twi ‘Asem atoyen’. Since duty bearers decided to be dishonest in their quest to shield public health information. You see, when a disease assumes public health concern it is no longer an individual problem but the public. Hence knowing the status of our legislators is vital to the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
In any case, what is parliament biggest fears if the public know their coronavirus test status? Or is it the case that their disease status could have implications on their political fortunes? ln many other countries high profile people such as the UK prime minister ,Boris Johnson, Israel health minister , Yaakov Litzman, Monaco’s Prince Albert II, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, South Sudan vice president and wife, Riek Machar the list is endless, were all tested positive for coronavirus and the news was all over the world.
The very reasons why Ghanaians still do not know which two MPs have been infected only points to one thing; STIGMA! For lack of a better word social death. Clearly, let us not run away from stigma instead let us fight it together.
Studies have shown that the word stigma was used by the ancient Greeks to refer to a mark placed on an individual to signify disgrace or infamy. Fear is effectively the primary cause of stigma. According to Coleman 1986, human beings tend to fear differences, fear the future, and fear the unknown. Consequently, they stigmatize that which is different and unknown. I have no doubt our legislators are not oblivious of the consequences of stigmatization which includes but not limited to feeling of shame, hopelessness and isolation, reluctance to ask for help or to get treatment, lack of understanding by family, friends or others, fewer opportunities for employment or social interaction, bullying, physical violence or harassment and self-doubt i.e. the belief that you will never overcome your illness or be able to achieve what you want in life.
The way forward is to essentially test everyone in Ghana but for the cost implications. So, government officials including all legislators must declare their test status. Knowing their status is effectively part of the process of preventing and containing the spread of the virus. Anyone confirmed positive should be guided by counselors and psychologist to adopt coping strategies to deal with the stigma. The recommended copying strategies could include; getting treatment; you may be reluctant to admit you need treatment yet you need it, don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame i.e. believe in yourself, don’t isolate yourself; if you must do then keep in touch with family and friends, join support groups it will help you get encouragement and the right information and lastly, speak out against stigma, anywhere everywhere.
To conclude, the two or more parliamentarians as well as any other prominent Ghanaians who have tested positive of the virus should step out as a sign of good statesmanship and encouragement to others. COVID-19 is not a death sentence and many infected persons are able to battle it. Thankfully, the death rate in Ghana so far is less than one per cent (0.46%) compared to the global rate of over six (6) per cent. If prominent citizens can rise up to this call and publicly declare their status, many more will emulate and our society will inch closure to curbing the spread and eliminating the stigma one step at a time. If these honorable men and women can humbly declare their status to the people, they so serve then we can say we are truly in this together!
Public Health Practitioner and Child Protection Advocate