Check Stigmatisation to stop COVID-19

Posted on  August 18, 2020 

Categories:   Health

Ghana’s Covid-19 case count is increasing exponentially and this is allegedly attributed to the non-compliance to the Safety Protocols by many Ghanaians. Health Professionals however suspect that growing stigmatization of Covid-19 patients could further fuel the spread if not checked. The phenomenon of stigmatization is firmly ingrained on the minds of infected persons and those who have recovered particularly in the old Bono Ahafo Area as attempts to interact with them about their experiences were rebuffed. 

Speaking to the Bono East Regional Director of Health Services, Dr. Fred Adomako Boateng, he stressed that people could start hiding their symptoms and opt not to be tested making it near impossible to stop the spread of the virus. 

 Stigma basically refers to a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. Some diseases attract stigma more than others. Leprosy, for instance, comes with immense stigma, just like AIDS in recent times. But it looks like Covid-19 is also beginning to be attached with stigma, a development which could detract the ongoing fight to contain the pandemic.

 The Bono East Region, along with the Ahafo and Bono Regions, went months without a case of Covid-19 when the country recorded its first cases. Stakeholders including the Ghana Health Service, Municipal and District Assemblies and Traditional Authorities were up and doing with the aim of keeping the area free of the virus.  The Techiman Traditional Council, for instance, cancelled its Apour Festival long before Ghana recorded its first case on the 12th of March.  The Ghana Health Service was also preoccupied with risk communication and put surveillance measures in place.  The District Assemblies also run with the hand washing message, supplying hand washing facilities and enjoining people to regularly maintain hand hygiene.  Some markets remain closed, while those open have sections moved to alternative sites in a bid to ensure social distancing.  Tricycles better known as Pragyia which is the preferred mode of commercial transport in most towns in the Bono Ahafo Area were also banned for a period.  Although they are back on the road, they maintain physical distancing.

In spite of these measured, Bono East recorded its first case on May 28. And this number has increased to 138 as at the second week of July, withn the space of less than two months.  Reasons for the increased cases could be varied including the huge market centres in Techiman, Atebubu, Yeji and Kintampo.  These areas attract people from far including Covid-19 hotspots.  Then again, many people in Bono East wear face masks only to avoid trouble with the Police and not for protection from the virus. 

Dr. Fred Adomako says attention must be paid to growing signs of stigmatization in the fight against Covid-19.

“If you are working with your people and you witness how another colleague is stigmatized because of Covid-19; even if you are sick you will hide it, come to work and in so doing spread the virus. People will even refuse to get tested and you can imagine what that will mean for the fight against the pandemic”.  Dr. Adomako stressed.

The Pru East District of the Bono East region was the first to record a case of Covid-19 and its District Director of Health Services, Emelia Kpodo also reiterated the need to check against stigma.

“The situation is very bad in the Bono East Region and the way forward is to educate the public about it and make stigmatization the focus of our public education. 

 Bono East and its neighbouring regions do not have many cases of Covid-19 compared to others but there have been reports about how recovered patients are being rejected in their neighbourhoods. Such reports can only make people wary of testing for Covid-19 even if they recognize the symptoms.

By John Sam-Arthur