COVID-19: Survivors Struggle With Social Stigma

Since the news of Terrence Maphosa’s (25) contraction of COVID-19 and his subsequent admission at Parirenyatwa hospital hit Glen Norah (a high density suburb in the capital Harare) early May, it has been taking a mental toll on him.

“Walking to the shopping centre and hearing people say, ‘haa isu tine immune system chamvari hatikwate COVID-19’ (We have a strong immune system, we do not fear COVID-19) would always feel like a direct attack towards me to say I’m HIV positive,” Maphosa confessed.

Maphosa had a bone marrow transplant back in 2015 and the issue of underlying conditions worsened his fears of contracting the deadly virus that has claimed more 200 lives in Zimbabwe.

While he preferred keeping his condition private, it became impossible for Maphosa due to the level of stigma he experienced as he became a subject of private conversations.

At work, he faced a similar predicament as his workmates isolated him.

“As a result I had to limit my movements and associations, at some point I even sought a one month leave from work in the hope that dust would have settled on my resumption for work,” Maphosa added.

Maphosa’s story resonates well with other people with underlying conditions and how they are struggling to fit in society since COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Zimbabwe.

According to Social Stigma Associated with COVID-19 2020 document by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and IFRC, stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt possible social isolation of groups which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more likely to spread.

It states that stigma can drive people to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, prevent people from seeking health care immediately and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviors, which is believed to further complicate containment of the disease.

A COVID-19 survivor from Zimre Park who spoke on conditions of anonymity said she has withdrawn from society as a result of discrimination.

“My relatives send groceries on Vaya (a ride hailing service) because they try to avoid visiting me. At work, it’s the same story I hear people scrambling on my door refusing to enter with just paper work.

“As a result I’m avoiding going to church or gatherings because I know people don’t want to interact with me. At work, I’m always in my office,” she said.

She contracted the virus at her workplace where she works with the COVID-19 response team.

While stigma is proving to be one of the key challenges for COVID-19 patients, misinformation is exacerbating the situation.

A lot of information about the pandemic in communities has not been confirmed by medical practitioners, the government or even global bodies like WHO.

Some of the information circulating about COVID-19 includes claims that the disease is only a danger to HIV positive people while for some time many people believed that black people were safe from the pandemic.

“A number of my friends do not quite take the mask-on-at-all-times motto seriously because we know we are HIV negative,” another Harare resident Priscilla Choto highlighted.

Dr Norman Matara of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) highlighted that misinformation regarding new diseases is quite prevalent hence the need to guard against it.

“There is a lot of misinformation around all disease, there will always be myths and misconceptions associated with diseases. But, it’s even worse when we have a relatively new disease like COVID-19 which presence the need to vividly beam the actual facts.

“COVID-19 affects everyone regardless of race, age or underlying condition. It can even be complicated to deal with on people with hypertension and diabetes, it’s not only HIV,” said Matara.

Currently, Zimbabwe has recorded 8,374 infections, 7927 recoveries and 243 deaths. According to the WHO Situation Report as at 2 November 2020 there has been 46,166,182 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,196,362 deaths reported so far.


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