Covid-19, is it fear or stigma?

Coronavirus Test Postive  554 File photo

Mon, 17 Aug 2020 Source: Bertha Badu-Agyei

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion or feeling caused by a threat of danger, pain, or harm whiles stigma involves negative attitudes or discrimination against someone based on health condition and many others. Therefore, while fear could be a genuine stigma, on the other hand, could be associated with a lack of knowledge.

Lately, there have been reports of people infected with COVID-19 being stigmatized in their communities to the extent that landlords eject their tenants who had contracted the virus from their homes while people refuse to sell to them simply because they had contracted the deadly coronavirus before.

Considering the hospitable nature of Ghanaians and the one’s feeling attitude, it becomes difficult to accept the fact that people are being stigmatized for having contracted the novel coronavirus through no fault of theirs, perhaps, they are stigmatizing either out of fear or lack of knowledge about the mode of contracting the virus and the fact that the disease is new making its dynamics very difficult to grasp.

A Minister of State and Member of Parliament contracted the virus and was admitted at the University of Ghana Medical Centre for two weeks, he recovered and was discharged to go home. Relatives, neighbours, and well-wishers visited him afterwards to congratulate him for surviving the deadly diseases especially when some of his contemporaries had succumbed to it.

*Then, the husband of a Koko (porridge) seller at Fankyene bra, a small farming community, in…… contracted the virus, admitted for two weeks at a local district hospital, on the day of discharge, some health workers had to follow him to the house in a kind of welcome party to sensitize the community to accept him and not to discriminate against him.

But his woes begun after the health officials who accompanied him to the house had left, everybody in the house immediately went to their rooms with their families, leaving him, his wife and children to their fate, the next day the landlord called his wife and asked her to tell the husband to relocate to their family house the time being because the other tenants in the house were not comfortable.

Three days later, as usual, his wife prepared her Koko for sale by the roadside, it was as if the entire community had travelled, nobody bought the Koko, and eventually, the family fed on the Koko for their breakfast, lunch and supper. As I write this piece, the innocent woman’s Koko business has collapsed just because her husband contracted COVID-19.

A study conducted by Edumedia, a non-governmental organization in some communities in the Eastern Region on ‘what causes stigma’ showed that people stigmatize based on fear for lack of knowledge about the disease and its mode of transmission and not to discriminate or cause pain to people who have been infected.

According to the Executive Director of Edumedia, Mr Kofi Amparbeng, most of the people interviewed in communities made it clear that they shun the company of people infected and their families because of fear of contracting the disease for the fact that they shared everything in common with such people, especially bathroom and toilet.

He said for the fact that people of certain calibre like the Ministers and high ranking officials who contracted the diseases were not stigmatized and the ordinary persons were, gives ample evidence that stigmatization was not widespread but rather depended on one’s location and one’s status.

The study indicated that people were more concerned about being able to go round their daily activities which were the sources of their livelihoods and out of fear of not knowing how COVID-19 would affect them, tend to shun the company of infected people as a way of protecting themselves.

According to experts, coronavirus is not going to leave us any time soon, therefore, as a people, we have to adjust to the protocols as a new normal way of living, and that calls for a concerted effort of educating people especially in the rural areas and less privileged communities as to how to go about life in order not to contract the virus and also not to stigmatize people who have been infected or discriminate against them.

For people to stigmatize or discriminate against others for having contracted a certain disease and in this case COVID, so many factors come to play and we cannot blame people so much for stigmatizing others than to find a way of making people understand the issues in the context of their situation and background.

My close shave with COVID on two occasions gives me the conviction that people’s conditions such as their educational and economic background as well as the environment in which they find themselves come to play when dealing with issues such as COVID-19, it might be fear of losing their livelihoods and even death that drives the reported cases of stigma.

Columnist: Bertha Badu-Agyei