Stigma, throughout history, has imposed suffering on groups vulnerable to any disease and impaired efforts in thwarting the progress in treating those diseases. This happens when groups are blamed for their illness because they are viewed as unclean or unfit to live with society. Stigma is one of the challenges common to most societies that are still struggling to appreciate the vulnerability of humans and their evolving nature.
With the many health issues that keep knocking on our doors, one is tempted to believe that our sense of humanity and empathy towards the sick and the recovered will be resuscitated especially in this unusual time but it is rather getting worse.
It is never a crime to be ill or affected by a disease and therefore one must not be at the crude and intolerable grips of people or the society when they are unfortunately hit by any form of illness. Not only has the “unassuming” novel COVID-19 pandemic, exposed the lingering weaknesses in our healthcare system but it has also shown our depleted social make-up as a society.
This attitude of ours is cancerous and could only erode the positive gains in any decent society. Our sense of care or human feeling for one another especially for the sick (those affected by the COVID-19) is soon fading off to the extent that, many of these people are being rejected and ejected from their homes and the society. We have soon forgotten that this virus could equally nab any of us and we would expect society to treat us with kindness and love.
As we keep hopes alive to curtail this canker, we have learnt of some health professionals (who are supposed to be our reliable stewards) revealing patients’ identities against their will or ethical practices of patient confidentiality. They owe it a sacred duty to protect these people who are at the moment vulnerable but turn out to be the “collaborators” who aid our ailing society with information on “victims”. This is a practice that leaves an emotional and psychological scar.
I have watched closely in the news both the traditional and social media, the inhumane treatment meted out and stigma attached to some of these persons who have recovered and concluded that we have lost it.
Our sense of empathy for one another has suddenly shrunk and we are no more the humans that we used to be. To the extent of roping in the families of “victims” maliciously by pelting them with stones, is a source for worry.
My worry is heightened when I hear of kids trading in this inhumane act in the full glare of the older folks who are supposed to lead the way in upholding social virtues (love for one another, empathy towards the sick and vulnerable). Something is definitely wrong or going wrong with our social architecture and it is about time we dealt with it head-on. This is the time to activate or reactivate the clinical psychology unit of our healthcare system to help us in dealing with the stigma that is fast spreading like a wildfire in our society.
Stigma will soon join the league of epidemic cases if it has not yet been and it will call for equal steps or even better resources to be galvanized to deal with before it rips us apart.It is a health threat and a health security issue. Stigma in the era of COVID-19 could be the virus to kill and not the COVID-19 itself.
Samuel Mensah Noi
Graduate Student in Communication Studies (Health Communication)
Arkansas State University, United States of America