Stop Stigma And Discrimination In A Pandemic — Dr Timothy William & Dr John Teo

The call for persons from a certain place, city, or state to be quarantined should be based purely on public health evidence and needs, rather than fear and discrimination.

The Covid-19 pandemic broke out in January this year and arrived in Malaysian shores and many other countries very soon thereafter. We have been bombarded daily with ominous news of this viral disease since then.

The intensity and often conflicting and confusing information have overwhelmed many people. Our knowledge of this disease is evolving with new information of this disease as time passes by different sources.

This is important information which have been globally established:

  • It’s a viral respiratory disease and mainly spread through respiratory droplets and close contacts.
  • If we physically distance ourselves, wear a mask properly and wash hands, our risk of getting infected comes down.
  • If we avoid large crowds, prolonged close contact and confined spaces, we can reduce the possibility of infection.
  • Some medications have been found to be useful to treat Covid-19 such as steroids and antiviral drugs.
  • Many vaccine trials are ongoing and may be made available in the near future.
  • High-risk individuals like the elderly, those with chronic diseases or are immune-compromised, need to be shielded from Covid infection as much as possible.

There is already a lot we learned about this disease and a lot more we can do to fight it nine months on.

Knowledge and facts are vital in allaying fear towards this disease that causes unnecessary harm or unintended consequences more than the disease itself.

The fact remains that Covid-19, although newly discovered, is an infectious diseases like tuberculosis and other transmissible diseases and share common features.

Covid-19 can be managed. It needs to be treated early and patients have to be monitored closely. Testing plays a vital role in controlling this pandemic.

Among the greatest barriers to testing other than the availability of tests are the stigmatisation and discrimination that follows once an individual is diagnosed with the disease.

Those who are infected with Covid 19 or any other transmissible diseases did not ask to be infected on purpose. They may have predisposing factors or are in circumstances that unfortunately caused them to acquire the infection.

Sometimes it’s because of misinformation, myths or ignorance, but the fact remains that NO one on purpose sought to be infected. They should not be blamed for being infected and neither should we blame anyone for infecting others.

The demand by some to know the past itinerary of the infected persons, their names, place of work, or even worse, taking photos of them being transported away by ambulance and personnel in full personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals add nothing to the fight against the pandemic, other than to cause shame and humiliation.

On the same note, the call for persons from a certain place, city, or state to be quarantined should be based purely on public health evidence and needs, rather than fear and discrimination.

At the start of this global outbreak, we were reluctant to accept anyone with a certain passport, alleging that if they orginate from that country, everyone else from the same country is potentially infectious.

This conveniently ignores the fact that it is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion and covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million mi2). It is also the world’s third or fourth largest country by area.

We even start to chase foreigners away when pre-Covid times, we welcomed them with open arms. These unwarranted and uncalled for actions caused real harm by stigmatisation of the patient and adds to the mental anguish and physical challenge of recovering from the infection.

Their families, colleagues, workplace and even their district, city or state may be stigmatised in a similar way, although there is no real scientific basis to categorise everyone under the same risk.

Every person has a different risk profile depending on their interactions, which part of the city or state they come from, what job they do and a myriad of other factors.

It is critical that once infected, the patient needs as much support as we can give with the greatest empathy, rather than victim-blaming or shaming. We are all in this together and the only way to overcome this pandemic is to fight it together rather than divided.

Stigmatisation, discrimination, and lack of empathy cause untold harm much more that the pandemic itself can inflict. Covid-19 does not discriminate, whether you are President, a high official or common people, it will infect regardless, if given half a chance.

We must realise that no one individual, community, state or country is safe if others are severely affected. We share the same land, water and breath the same air in the same planet and for that matter, humanity and every one must help and support each other.

There is simply no other way. There is enough suffering and despair everywhere, the least we can do is not to add to it.

Let us be united and fight Covid-19 together. We shall overcome this disease.

Dr Timothy William is a consultant in infectious diseases. Dr John Teo is an obstetrician & gynaecologist.

This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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