New Delhi: Coronavirus patients and those who have recovered from the highly infectious disease are increasingly facing stigma in India. There have been cases in the country where dead bodies of those who were a victim to the SARS-CoV-2 virus have remained unclaimed. There have also been cases where even patients’ families have refused to help them, in order to avoid getting infected.
Dr Mohan Joshi, Dean of Mumbai’s Nair Hospital which is one of the COVID-19 hospitals in the city, told NDTV about an incident where a pregnant woman belonging to an elite family living in Bandra, was abandoned by her family right after she gave birth as she was found infected with the coronavirus. Even the hospital where she gave birth did not admit her there and she was left to fend for herself with a one-day-old baby, who was not infected with the virus.
After visiting several hospitals in Mumbai via an ambulance, she came to seek treatment at the Nair Hospital for coronavirus, her family came and accepted her and her child back after she had fully recovered.
Such cases are being reported from across the country and not just with patients, even frontline workers have been victims of the stigma attached to this virus.
Government has recognised the issue too and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a statement stating,
Cases have been reported of people affected with COVID-19 as well as healthcare workers, sanitary workers and police, who are in the frontline for management of the outbreak, facing discrimination on account of heightened fear and misinformation about the infection. Even those who have recovered from COVID-19 face such discrimination. Further, certain communities and areas are being labelled purely based on false reports floating in social media and elsewhere. There is an urgent need to counter such prejudices and to rise as a community that is empowered with health literacy and responds appropriately in the face of this adversity.
Furthermore, the ministry explained the facts about COVID-19 and urged people to be informed and end the stigma.
Healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, and allied and healthcare professionals are rendering their services tirelessly to provide care and medical / clinical support in this situation of crisis. Sanitary workers and police are also doing selfless service and playing critical roles in addressing the challenge of COVID-19. They all deserve our support, praise and appreciation.
All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) Chief, Dr Randeep Guleria said at a press briefing that owing to the stigma, some people are hesitant to get tested when they experience symptoms.
A stigma is still attached to #COVID19. Many people fear to come to hospital and get a test done. An issue that this causes is that if a person is positive and there is a delay in his admission to a hospital, then it increases mortality, he said.
A stigma is still attached to #COVID19. Many people fear to come to hospital&get a test done. An issue that this causes is that if a person is positive& there is delay in his admission to a hospital, then it increases mortality: Dr Randeep Guleria, AIIMS Director, in Ahmedabad pic.twitter.com/XuOCiUuQLN
— ANI (@ANI) May 9, 2020
An expert Public Health Foundation of India agreed with the AIIMS Chief and added,
Testing is one of the important key to combat the spread of COVID-19 crisis. If we test people, we know they are carriers of the disease and we can quarantine them, not only will it decrease mortality but it will also prevent them from infecting others with this highly contagious virus. Owing to the stigma attached to the virus, there are people who are hesitant to get tested for coronavirus. This social Stigma associated with coronavirus is weakening our fight against the pandemic.
She further suggested some steps that can be taken by the authorities and medical experts in order to avoid the stigma.
Information is the strongest weapon to fight coronavirus. Medical experts from across the globe are saying and trying to give a clear message, spread correct information. If people are informed with facts, they will take the pandemic in the correct way. And facts are that the virus is preventable with norms like social distance, hand hygiene, wearing masks and most people who contract the virus are asymptomatic and are going to be fine in about 14 days. So they should be in quarantine. People at risk are the elderly and those who have a weak immune system due to various other underlying diseases like diabetes or respiratory and heart problems. There is absolutely no need for stigma or to banish and abandon people because of COVID-19.
She further stated that some steps that should be followed as responsible citizens, that have also been highlighted by the government,
As responsible citizens, we must appreciate the efforts of people providing essential services and be supportive of them and their families. I urge everyone to please check and recheck before they share any kind of information about the virus. Please share only the authentic information available on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or the World Health Organisation.
Lastly, she requests people to not publicly spread names or identity of those affected or under quarantine or their locality on the social media. This is to avoid spreading fear and panic.