Social Stigma- The battle within the battle!
Indeed the human evolution is going through ire of a biological phenomenon that it has the least knowledge to treat it completely till now. Like before, all efforts and battles have come together to save as many lives as possible. Like before, there are ongoing counter-attacks upon this global pandemic with its bravest and qualified warriors in the first line of defence.
But within this battle against COVID19, the global pandemic, there’s another battle that has surfaced. Even our very own health minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan had cautioned against it during the very initials days of lockdown. It is the Social Stigma that majority of the health crisis has accompanied, and COVID19 isn’t any exception.
What is SOCIAL STIGMA?
The WHO, UNICEF, and IFRC call Social stigma as the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. This means that people are categorized, stereotyped, victimized against, and treated deceitfully because of a perceived connection to the disease.
Factors Responsible For its Rise
The fertile ground that is being laid is in the form of fear. A fear (about the infection), which has been cultivated in society because of the absence of knowledge about this virus. A fear that got nourished more due to all the misinformation and unawareness than that linked to the high infectivity of the virus.
Whom and how does it impact ?
The major frontline stakeholders, (apart from those who have been infected and later cured, police personals, and relief camp workers) are the doctors, nurses, ward boys, pathologists, pharmacists, and those tasked in the maintenance of the COVID centers. If not due to the presence of these health care workers (HCWs), our battle against the novel coronavirus would have ended even before it had started.
Let’s remember how the first warrior of the battle, Dr. Li Wenliang, lost his life while treating a coronavirus infected patient. The efforts of these HCWs, working continuously and tirelessly, without backing, need proper acknowledgment from everyone univocally.
But rather, incidents of violence and harassment against them have been reported. At some places, public facilities have been barred/discriminated for them while social ostracism from the neighbourhood has come alive via communal isolation, lynching and forcefully vacating them from rented houses, etc.
At a time when full-fledged support should be extended towards these warriors, some sections of the society have taken a stand against them. For instance, it might be thought that those people might belong to the rural or backward class of people but mistake not, this social stigma has flowed without race or class-biased into society. Various social media posts from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook stand witness to this unnecessary in situ war.
When it was verified, about the impact of this issue that has never stopped surfacing, Dr Omswaroop Hota, an HCW from a government-run hospital, spoke of the very reality of the social stigma’s impact of reduced motivation to come for work. From discouragement and mental illness like issues to the threat of attack from vulnerable people and social isolation, this social stigma is a slow but poisonous internal war. The virus that’s out there can be treated with the development of certain vaccines but this war against the invisible nonphysical enemy certainly exists for more than the times we can imagine.
Ways and Means to Solve it.
Dr Hota suggests the possible method to fight the battle against the stigma is to increase awareness about the infections and its mode of transfer. He believes by following the guidelines of WHO – creating an environment to hold open discussions among people and HCWs – would exhaust the fuel of fear inside people.
“How we communicate about COVID-19 is critical in supporting people to take effective action to help combat the disease and to avoid fuelling fear and stigma”WHO says, in a statement.
The realization that proper awareness is necessary is never a hesitation. The battle is for real. Let us all fight and win against this battle of social stigma and help our COVID warriors win theirs. Let us all be a warrior in ourselves for a healthier society.