It is extremely vital during a pandemic that focus is not only directed towards optimal physical health and hygiene but finding ways to eliminate the stigma so that we can all find ways to contribute to fighting the disease.
What is stigma?
Stigma occurs when people panic due do not understand the virus. When people have little knowledge of COVID-19: the causation, contraction, treatment and prevention in general this can lead to dangerous stigmatisation. Unfortunately, there a people who have experienced victimisation and insults from their communities once people find out that they have tested positive.
Stigma is also attached to the use of PPE (Personal protective equipment) because some members of the community still do not understand the importance of wearing these gears. Therefore having to use objects that they’ve never had to regard as essential can incite fear. These are some of the key aspects to follow:
- Treat everybody with respect and empathy – no teasing about COVID-19.
- Encourage kindness towards each other and avoid any stereotyping when talking about the virus.
- Always advocate for tolerance and acceptance amongst your circle of friends and family.
- Stay home if you have a temperature or are ill.
- Do not touch people who are ill but be empathetic.
There are so many learnings that can be drawn from the stigma that has always been associated with HIV and TB. Society is experiencing the same process through the spread of false information. One of the manifestations of misinformation is negatively labeling those who are impacted by the disease. Many of us consume most of the coronavirus information through social media. While this can be a helpful tool, it also requires the ability to decipher as not every post and tweet is accurate.
This can only be solved by taking the time to self-educate because knowledge is power and it allows us to make informed decisions. The only way to debunk false information is through fact-checking. Familiarise yourself with awareness campaigns, official documents and websites. The South African government has a dedicated website, https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ where you can find credible information as well as the Whatsapp support line: 0600 029 999.
The only way to move forward and demystify the disease as a society is to acknowledge that the world is in the middle of a global pandemic through our actions. Most importantly, know that it can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, class or age. No one is susceptible to the disease. You should all be encouraged to test for your health and the health of your loved ones. In other words, testing should be taken in a positive light to combat the disease in our country. Integral to that is understanding that you cannot self-diagnose, you need to be tested to confirm the disease.
Beyond acceptance, it is also vital to understand that we all have the power to address the myths and misconceptions that lead to stigma. It starts with you!