Avoid fuelling fear, stigma

Editorial

CREATING fear and stigma is not the best option to dealing with any outbreak of the coronavirus.
The news of the increase in number of Covid-19 cases in the country has triggered social stigma and discriminatory behaviours in some areas against anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.
Stigma can undermine social solidity and prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread.
This can result in more health problems and difficulties controlling further outbreaks.
Stigma can drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination; prevent people from seeking healthcare immediately; and, discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours
In an outbreak, people are often labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease.
Such treatment can negatively affect those with the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends and communities.
People who don’t have the disease but share other characteristics with this group may also suffer from stigma.
It is understandable that there is confusion, anxiety and fear among the public.
Unfortunately, these factors are also fuelling harmful labels.
Evidence shows that stigma and fear around communicable diseases hamper the response.
What works is building trust in reliable health services and advice, showing empathy with those affected, understanding the disease itself and adopting effective, practical measures so people can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Authorities in the country have a daunting task ahead of them.
How we communicate about the Covid-19 is critical in supporting people to take effective actions to help combat the disease and to avoid fuelling fear and stigma.
Again, we will stress an environment needs to be created in which the Covid-19 and its impact can be discussed and addressed openly, honestly and effectively.
The World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Federation of Red Cross have stressed that when talking about the coronavirus, certain words and language may have a negative meaning for people and fuel stigmatising attitudes.
They can spread existing negative labels or assumptions, strengthen false associations between the disease and other factors, create widespread fear or dehumanise those who have the disease.
This can drive people away from getting screened, tested and quarantined.
Words used in media are especially important because these will shape the popular language and communication on the Covid-19.
Negative reporting has the potential to influence how people suspected to have the Covid-19, patients and their families and affected communities are perceived and treated.
We have written in our editorials and will continue to advocate that the Government, our citizens, the media, key influencers and communities have an important role to play in preventing and stopping stigma in general.
We all need to be intentional and thoughtful when communicating on social media and other communication platforms, showing supportive behaviours around the Covid-19.
In times like this, everyone should be working together.
Stigma can be discriminating when there is insufficient knowledge about how the coronavirus is transmitted and treated and how to prevent infection.
We have the responsibility of using simple language and avoid clinical terms, given the literacy level in the country.
Fake news spread like wild fire and that is why the truth must always be told so there is no panic and anxiety.

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