Do not blame and shame people who have COVID-19. Instead, find out more about the virus and understand that it is a worldwide pandemic that can affect anyone.
While we all need to take action to protect ourselves from the coronavirus (COVID-19), we should not treat people with COVID-19 as outcasts in society.
As cases of the disease continue to grow, South Africans are understandably fearful for the safety of themselves and their loved ones. It is important to keep your distance from people who are sick and to practice good hygiene. But this does not mean that you should look down on COVID-19 patients.
Dr Tammy Duncan, a doctor working in the Gauteng public health sector, says that she has seen a stigma emerging around COVID-19.
“People who contract COVID-19 are often not treated with the respect they deserve. People are fearful of them and have a tendency to display anger and negativity towards them,” says Dr Duncan.
Duncan says that it is important to note that COVID-19 can affect anyone, and contracting it is often not the fault of the patient.
“Since the virus spreads so easily, it is easy to contract COVID-19, and often there was no way that these people could have prevented catching the virus. Even people who take all the necessary protective measures can contract COVID-19.”
Duncan adds that due to stigma, many people are reluctant to seek medical care when they are experiencing symptoms.
“People are scared of how they will be treated if they test positive. It is very important to seek medical treatment if you are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath because it can save your life.”
Collin Ngwenya, a construction worker in Johannesburg, contracted COVID-19 but has since recovered. He does not know exactly how he contracted the virus, because he always wore a mask and washed his hands. But he says he was insulted by members of his community when he returned home from being in quarantine in hospital.
“Members of the community were still scared of me and some of them were nasty, calling me names and telling me to stay away from them. I actually got a bit scared for my safety because there was a lot of anger towards me,” says Ngwenya.
Ngwenya encourages people to educate themselves about the illness. “People must realise that when a positive person has recovered, they are free from COVID-19.”
He appeals to people to practice social distancing and proper hygiene and to seek medical assistance if they have symptoms of the virus.