Social Stigma associated with COVID-19

Dr. Sneha Sharma

The outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is stressful, confusing, and fearful for the people. It is leading to social stigma towards certain people. As defined by WHO, “Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. In an outbreak, this may mean people are labeled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease”. In the past, people with diseases like HIV/AIDS have faced such discrimination. Such stigma around an illness affects not only the victim but also the people associated with the victim. The current outbreak has also led to such discrimination against people with Asian descents, healthcare workers, and people who have recently traveled abroad.

Stigma for any disease hurt the stigmatized group and create anger towards other people. Unfortunately, these people are stereotyped. The below four groups are most vulnerable to the stigma related to COVID-19:

  1. Self-quarantined people: These people include those who might have the disease. The government is giving their address and marking their doors with large posters, thus violating medical ethics. These people and their families are thrown out of their homes by their landlords or are shunned.
  2. The caregivers, doctors, and emergency responders: It is quite ironic that those fighting the disease are being discriminated by the people. There are stories around the world about how the doctor was attacked by a mob or how the landlord is throwing residing doctor out of their house.
  3. People of Asian descent: Some people share similar characteristics with the suspected index patient, and hence they are stigmatized.
  4. Religion-based discrimination: Some people are not following the guidelines of the government due to their religious orthodoxy. In such cases, the whole community is subjected to discrimination by the non-followers.

The stigma around the disease can drive people to hide the illness and avoid getting screened, tested, and quarantined to prevent discrimination. This practice will only make the situation worse. Hence, it is essential to address the social stigma.

The public can follow the following steps to reduce the stigma around the disease:

  1. Raise awareness about the COVID-19 based on facts and not rumors
  2. Be cautions before sharing images. People should not share pictures or messages which reinforce the stereotype, such as the message where “COVID-19” is written as “Asian/ Chinese virus.”
  3. Thank healthcare workers and responders
  4. Don’t be a bystander and speak up against any negative behavior. These can include a negative comment about a community on the social media platform. Such incidents should be reported immediately.
  5. Help those(financially/emotionally) who have lost jobs due to the lockdown

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