The Mental Health Authority has urged the public to desist from stigmatizing COVID-19 affected persons and health workers.
This call comes in relation to recent stories shared by COVID-19 survivors, patients and health workers over various acts of discrimination meted out to them by sections of the public.
The authority, therefore, called on the public to “respect coronavirus but do not panic. COVID-19 is not a death sentence. Do not stigmatise and build your resilience to withstand all stigma.”
President Nana Akufo-Addo in his seventh address Sunday, April 19, 2020, cautioned citizens against stigmatizing persons who had contracted the disease as it will rather drive people away from getting screened, tested and treated.
The Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health Authority Dr Akwasi Osei in a statement said: “The stigma puts affected persons under stress and this can worsen their plight and make it difficult to improve from the COVID-19 and if they improve, can deter them from taking an active part in enjoying their lives, from engaging in their daily business, and can worsen any underlying medical or mental health condition.”
Also, the authority encouraged people affected by the COVID-19 to “watch against self-stigma, increase resilience to ignore the public stigma.”
COVID-19 cases in Ghana
Ghana has a total of 1,279 confirmed cases, 10 deaths, 134 recoveries, and 1m135 active cases as at 22nd April 2020.
Message from the Mental Health Authority
Let Us Avoid Stigma of Covid-19
It is now certain that for the next couple of weeks and perhaps months, Covid-19 is the new visitor we have got to live with, like it or not. Since 12 March 2020 when the first two cases were recorded in Ghana, the Minister for Information has announced that as of 22 April 2020 we now have 1,154 cases with 120 recovered and nine deaths. The number of cases is expected to increase as the test results of the backlog of samples taken trickle in and enhanced contact tracings and testing are done.
As our containment measures are reaping fruits with very low mortality rate of 0.78% compared with the world trend of 4% the concern, however, is the stigma associated with persons with Covid-19. A survivor gave his story that after his recovery, he and his family know no peace because of stigma. A health worker has also reported that a landlady of a colleague she visited in uniform threatened to evict her for ‘you nurses go to hospital and bring the Covid disease to us’. A taxi driver refused to take her in her uniform.
Stigma is when one is tagged for shame and discrimination for having a condition. Stigma arises out of fear, the fear is from ignorance and the ignorance leads to our avoidant behavior and attitude of rejection. When you stigmatise, you are telling us that you do not have enough information about the condition. Seek knowledge.
Stigma has three forms: the public stigma which you receive from the public because you have the condition; self-stigma which you associate with yourself because you have it; and association or courtesy stigma which others close to you receive because of your condition. Stigma puts affected persons under stress and this can worsen their plight and make it difficult to improve from the Covid-19 and if they improve, can deter them from taking active part in enjoying their lives, from engaging in their daily business, and can worsen any underlying medical or mental health condition. We need to stop stigmatising people. Stigma can prevent people from seeking help knowing that they will be stigmatised. Then they will harbour the condition, suffer the consequence in silence and spread it to others. This will defeat our efforts to combat this enemy, the coronavirus. Let us stop the stigma for tomorrow it could be you.
While urging all to stop public stigma, people affected should also watch against self-stigma, increase your resilience to ignore the public stigma and tell yourself that you have been blessed to have survived and no amount of stigma from the public can discourage you from enjoying your health and freedom from the virus.
Keep observing the personal hygiene principles of handwashing, hand sanitization and social distancing. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, eat healthily, stay at home as much as possible and wear your face-mask when going out. Respect coronavirus but do not panic – Covid-19 is not a death sentence. Do not stigmatise and build your resilience to withstand all stigma.
Dr. Akwasi Osei,
Chief Executive, Mental Health Authority