KAMPALA, Uganda– There is a cyclical relationship between stigma and HIV- people who experience stigma and discrimination are marginalized and made more vulnerable to HIV, while those living with HIV are more vulnerable to experiencing stigma and discrimination
Stigma often results in people living with HIV being insulted, rejected, gossiped about and excluded from social activities. At its extreme, stigma can drive people to physical violence. People living with HIV often feel nervous about revealing their status due to the fear of stigma or discrimination.
The most recent stigma that has cropped up is the stigma related to recovered patients of the Coronavirus disease. According to the latest statistic, 1.25 million people have recovered from coronavirus worldwide. One of the biggest fears is that patients who have recovered from the illness might still be infectious even after being cleared by authorities.
As survivors get ready to go home, Uganda Network on Law, Ethics, and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), together with other health experts, note the need to prepare communities to prevent stigma, especially at such a time as this when recent reports about the recovery of 55 Coronavirus patients have given hope to a number of people living with uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
“No one wants to be an outcast in their community. Therefore making the disease seem worse than it is or referring to patients or survivors with demeaning terms will discourage others from speaking up even when they suspect infection,” said Dorah Kiconco, UGANET Executive Director.
“We are living in a period of such uncertainty and fear and treating each other with a little kindness can go a long way. Bullying shunning or shaming each other will not make the problem go away faster, if anything it makes it stay longer.”
Groups of people who may be experiencing stigma because of COVID-19 include Persons of Asian descent, people who have travelled and emergency responders or healthcare professionals managing the suspected cases, among others.
Misinformation and lack of health education are contributing factors to stigma. Therefore, knowing the facts and sharing them with others in the community can help stop stigma related to COVID-19.
“People are concerned about recovered patients returning to their communities and the most effective way to address these concerns is to empower our communities to take action to protect themselves and avail them with the right information to stop them from being afraid of what they do not know,”she added.
Available research suggests that recovering patients with mild symptoms become low-risk around 10 days after they first fall ill.
A number of COVID-19 survivors and their families, are battling social stigma arising out of misinformation and panic surrounding the pandemic, with many of them being branded as “COVID patients, Corona family” within our communities as majority having fingers pointed at their houses.
The Ministry of Health should be able to start campaigns against this kind of discrimination and also educate citizens that patients cured from COVID-19 are not a danger to the community.