The global pandemic known as Covid-19 or simply as the novel coronavirus has turned 2020 on its head and altered our lives dramatically for the foreseeable future. Upon its inception, with infections first being reported from the city of Wuhan in China, it has been of high concern in the medical and scientific world. What was initially believed to be a highly infectious form of the flu virus with symptoms of pneumonia has spiralled into an ever-changing enigma. The development of a cure or a vaccine that can stand up to the rapidly spreading disease has become of paramount importance to scientists and medical professionals globally.
Internationally efforts and measures have put in place for preventing the spread and flattening the curve, from isolation protocols, restrictions on movement and assembly implemented by the government to self-protection such as sanitation measures and suggestive protective gear. This change in lifestyle, while at the beginning seemed okay has taken its toll on people. Most have embraced the new normal and are taking the situation in their stride, others have come face to face with their anxieties.
Over the past few weeks, I have been made aware of a notion of stigmatisation towards individuals who have or have had a positive diagnosis. However, we may be misinterpreting caution as stigma. The term stigma signifies a mark of disgrace usually associated with individuals who have a disease associated with a social taboo or which has a process of contraction that links the individual to a specific action. This is not the case for people who have contracted Covid-19. The process of contraction is not disgraceful, and it is accidental in most cases, unless the individual is purposefully disregarding protective measures.
Why I believe that caution is misinterpreted as stigmatisation
There are so many things that we do not know about the virus, the information that we have at our disposal are sometimes not credible and are sometimes retracted or changed in light of new findings. Nothing is concrete because everyone is still learning. As a student in the field of physiology and microbiology, we learn to look at things from so may angles, to consider all the options and to ask all the questions. With something like Covid-19, it is not a simple solution; I cannot just dust off a textbook, open up lengthy well-researched journal entries to calm my anxieties and rest my concerns. All the research is new, information is changing all the time; there are questions that we are waiting on answers for and there are questions we have not even thought to ask yet.
Even, in my case where I know how to research for the correct and most credible sources of information, it is unrealistic and mentally destabilising for any individual to fuss and stress over the virus in that way. To address all the concerns and questions that I have regarding the safety of my family and loved ones would cause unnecessary anxiety. Personally, when I think of what I don’t know regarding the virus and it is for these reasons that I would avoid and advise my family to avoid being in close contact with a person who has had Covid-19.
Why being open and honest is important?
Covid-19 is not contracted in any disgraceful or demeaning way. Many people contract it by going to work, especially jobs which deal heavily with human contact, and in many cases its not your fault. Being honest and open about how and where you may have contracted the virus could save someone’s life. You could prevent contraction of the virus for someone.
Being aware of your status, when symptoms present or after contact is made, and making it known to people you are in regular contact with will allow people to get tested early and prevent sometimes fatal complications. Hiding a positive Covid-19 status is dangerous as transmitting the virus is very easy.
If you take proper precautions and are alert, there is no need to fear stigmatisation. As the information becomes clearer and as concerns are addressed, the caution, fear and anxiety will diminish but until then, we need to be more understanding of the situation that we are in and take it step by step. Everyone will adapt to the new normal gradually but only if we do not have to fear each other.
The constant policing and social media shaming are where we are losing the confidence to be honest and open about Covid-19. Its our responsibility to work together and to ensure that each and every one of us makes it through this difficult time alive and in the company of the ones we love and cherish.