The Nakuru County Governor, Lee Kinyanjui has warned that stigmatisation of people who have either recovered from Covid-19 or are suspected to have contracted the disease is becoming one of the major challenges in managing spread of the pandemic.
Kinyanjui cited a case where three shopkeepers declined to serve a customer whose wife had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and second incident of a landlord who issued an eviction notice to a family after two of its members tested positive for the disease.
He said rejection of Covid-19 victims by the community is hindering provision of medical care and preventing disclosure of potential coronavirus infections, factors he cautioned could increase infection rates in the country.
The governor who spoke in his office flanked by County Executive Committee Member for Health, Dr. Zachary Gichuki Kariuki noted that public awareness campaigns and the mass media have ‘strongly’ focused on social distancing and isolation creating an impression that those infected are social outcasts or criminals.
“As we fully embrace guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health towards combating spread of Covid-19, public awareness campaigns on the pandemic need also to stress psychological support for patients. Simple acts of courtesy and charity will go a long way in alleviating very trying moments for affected families.
The biggest threat to overcoming the spread of Covid-19 is the social stigma associated with its patients and doctors treating this illness. This is mainly due to misinformation that has circulated in the media and a lack of public awareness. The citizens need to realise that the disease is not a disgrace,” he added.
Kinyanjui testified that he was aware of cases where persons who had been released from Covid-19 quarantine and isolation centres were being subjected to stigma even after they have been confirmed not to be a risk in spreading the virus.
“Stopping stigma is important for us to create a society that is resilient to the pandemic. Some of the recovering Covid-19 patients and those cleared to leave isolation centres have been subjected to social rejection, denial of housing, employment, physical violence among others.
We have incorporated counseling for both those held at isolation facilities and their families towards ensuring that they are successfully reintegrated into the society after their quarantine or treatment. To enhance recovery and make this war against Covid-19 a success Kenyans must stop discrimination,” asserted Kinyanjui.
Dr. Kariuki said the slowly but steadily creeping Corona virus related stigma has the possibility of complicating and slowing down the implementation of intervention strategies being put in place by the government to both treat Covid-19 patients and stem the increase in infections.
“As experts we have noted that Corona virus related stigma is slowly creeping in and has the potential to complicate response against the highly infectious disease,” the Health CEC stated.
Dr. Kariuki said deliberate efforts designed to fight stigma and discrimination directed against Covid-19 patients and those suspected to have come into contact with them should be amplified if the fight against the disease that mainly targets respiratory organs is to be brought under control.
Covid-19 associated stigma in the country is mainly being fueled by insufficient knowledge about the new disease, how it is transmitted and treated and how to effectively prevent infection.
According to the John Hopkins University’s Centre for Communications, misconceptions, rumours and misinformation are major contributors to stigma and discrimination which in turn hamper response efforts in combating the disease.
The Centre warns that this can result in more severe health problems and difficulties controlling the disease outbreak, since the stigma drives people to hide illness to avoid discrimination, prevents them from seeking health care immediately and ultimately discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours.
By Anne Mwale