THE Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has called on government and its stakeholders to be consistent in theory information dissemination processes to curd stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.
By Michael Gwarisa
CWGH Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said in as much as they commend the government for putting additional precautionary measures against the possible spread of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), there should be a systematic means of sharing information to the public.
Zimbabwe has so far recorded three confirmed cases of the disease which has killed thousands of people in countries like Spain, China and Italy. In this somber moment, CWGH would like to offer its solidarity and support to all those affected and infected by the contagious disease. We would like to highlight that public health emergencies like the outbreak of COVID-19 are stressful times for most people and communities and therefore require delicate handling to avoid stigmatization and discrimination of those suspected to be sick from the disease or having been in contact with a suspect.
“This therefore calls for the government and other stakeholders to share accurate, correct and timely information about the disease to avoid the state of affairs where the public rely on inflammatory and false information from social media, causing unnecessary fear, panic, stigma and discrimination in the country,” said Mr Rusike.
He added that Zimbabwe cannot afford a repeat of the HIV/AIDS debacle in the late 1990s, whereby there was so much stigma and discrimination fueled by ignorance and the general lack of information making people living with HIV more vulnerable.
“The current state of affairs requires constant updates and reassurance from health authorities to avoid panic and despondency among citizens. Already, fake news and misinformation on social media is causing panic, fear and stigmatization of people suspected to have the disease, hence the need for correct and unmassaged data from official sources. It is the government’s national duty to array such fears.
Lack of information or misinformation, fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can result in social stigma towards people, a certain community of people or nationalities; or even persons released from quarantine.”
Mr Rusike also said there is need for the government and other stakeholders to craft and communicate well-though out, non-stigmatizating and non-discriminatory messages to the citizens.
“The effects of stigmatization are devastating socially, emotionally, physically and economically and may result in further health complications. CWGH is very concerned to learn that people of some nationalities have been subjected to rejection and at times physical violence because they are associated with either the source of the disease or because their countries were badly affected by COVID-19.
Health workers such as nurses and doctors who come into contact with suspects are also exposed to stigma and discrimination in communities they stay because of their vulnerability and exposure to COVID-19 suspects and patients.
“CWGH therefore calls upon responsible authorities including Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), public health officials and all those who communicate about COVID-19 to raise awareness about the disease without increasing panic and fear; share accurate information about how the virus is spread; and maintain confidentiality of those health seeking assistance and those who are part of contact investigation to stop stigma and discrimination.”
He also added that government should speak out openly against negative statements by influential officials; harmful statements on social media or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities. It should monitor images and posters on COVID-19 to ensure that they do not reinforce stereotype.
“Solidarity is a good remedy to the risk and inequality that may arise at a community level due to stigma and discrimination. Communities can use existing local structures to provide mutual solidarity to those who need suppor.”