New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has its task cut out to ensure de-stigmatisation of the Covid-19 issue in India.
Officials in the Ministry told The Sunday Guardian that they have been receiving a lot of complaints about stigma surrounding the Covid-19 infection amongthe general public across the country and that they are devising new plans to ensure that such a thing is stopped at the earliest. “Despite it being months of the Covid-19 crisis in India, the general public has still not been able to de-stigmatise Covid-19. We are still getting complaints of how the doctors and other frontline workers, working with Covid-19 patients, are being ostracised in their society;how the migrant workers who are going back or have gone back to their villages are being kept outside their village, some even sleeping in the open for days. Many people are still not disclosing their symptoms fearing that their family members and neighbours would banish them from society. We are also still hearing about doctors and ASHA workers who are going for contact tracing being shooed away,” an official at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told this newspaper.
A health worker from Delhi, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian , narrated how she is still facing difficulties in her society as people are looking at her with suspicion.
“Covid-19 is being looked at as a killer diseasein society. I am looked at with suspicion when I go to my society. They think that I am a carrier of coronavirus since I have to spend a lot of time with corona patients. Even ambulance drivers and ward boys who go to pick up and drop Covid patients to and from hospitals are often stopped. If this does not go away, we will not be able to win the war against corona,” the health worker from Delhi said.
Another Health ministry official told this correspondent how people are hiding their health conditions.The official narrated several incidents from across the country where despite having symptoms of Covid-19 the patients are fearful of going to the doctor or getting themselves checked as they feel that if they turn out to be positive, they will be thrown away by society and sometimes even by their own family members.
“We are also getting complaints and seeing media reports from across the country on how people are resisting to set up a quarantine centre in their locality. The quarantine centres are being looked at as some kind of a ghostly place,” the Health ministry official said. The official further said that such stigma about Covid-19 still exists in society because of a lot of misinformation and fear about the disease, and the lack of education and knowledge about the infection.
“There is a lot of fear mongering with respect to Covid-19 and many believe that it is like a death sentence, not realising the fact that more than 60% of the patients are recovering and the death rate is just 3-5%,” the health ministry official said.
However, following several such complaints and feedback from across the country, the Ministry is regularly educating people through visual and print medium about the ill-effects of stigmatisation aroundthe Covid-19 issue.
The Ministry is releasing audio visual and print advertisements across the country, apart from making announcements at the block and taluka level in every district, educating people about Covid-19 and the ill effects of stigmatisation of the disease.
Ministry officials and doctors say that due to the stigmatisation, a lot of cases are not being reported or being only reported when the symptoms get complicated; this, in turn, is worsening the situation as these patients are potentially transmitting the disease to other people.
“We are regularly carrying out an information campaign on de-stigmatisation of Covid-19. We have also instructed all the state governments to ensure that such stigmatisation is done away with ,” said an official.