SOUTH AFRICA - Cape Town - 7 April 2020 - Doctor Von Molendorff conducting a swab test on a patient as Covid-19 Community screening and testing at Scottsdene clinic in Kraaifontein. Picture:Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 stigma is due to lack of knowledge, says Doctor

Most patients who find out their Covid-19 test result is positive, react with “Please don’t tell anyone my result”.

DURBAN – There have been reports on the media about people being stigmatised by their communities because they are infected or thought to be infected with Coronavirus.

Last month, in northern KwaZulu-Natal a R6 million hospital building was burnt to the ground, allegedly to protest the hospital being used as a Covid-19 facility. In another case, community members burned tyres outside Untunjambili Hospital, near KwaDukuza, following the admission of 10 patients who are Covid-19 positive at the hospital.

KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala and Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu have called for the eradication of stigma against people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Dr Sheri Fanaroff, a family physician, says there is still a massive stigma associated with having Coronavirus. Most patients who find out their Covid-19 test result is positive, react with “Please don’t tell anyone my result”.

“We have been trying to understand the reasons behind this and have realised that there, sometimes the person feels guilty for contracting Covid. They are ashamed for having let their guard down in some way. They feel like they are now a danger to society,” she said.

The reason why there is so much stigma associated with the pandemic is because people fear the unknown and there is still much unknown about Covid-19.

“People avoid the infected person and their family as they are worried they will contract the virus. Patients have described feeling shunned and “dirty” when people have avoided them, even after their contagious period,”  says Dr Karin van der Merwe.

Both Dr Sheri Fanaroff and Dr Karin van der Merwe have identified the dangers of Covid-19 stigma as follows:

  • It is unkind. Covid-19 adds to the anxiety and depression already experienced by those infected with Covid-19.
  • People don’t present for testing when they are ill because they are afraid of the stigma associated with a positive result.
  • Infected people are less likely to receive early interventions and monitoring that may have an impact on the outcomes.
  • Infected people are discouraged from self-isolating, which puts others at risk of infection.
  • Early tracing and testing of symptomatic contacts is crucial in containing the spread of infection. If patients hide their infection, they contribute massively to the spread of the epidemic.


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