Fear and stigma stymie COVID-19 prevention

Fear and stigma over COVID-19
Fear and stigma over COVID-19. (Mulyadi/Unsplash)

On Christmas Day in 2020, Mavis Munyai* received more than well wishes, she received a referral for a COVID-19 test. The results were positive.  .

The 48-year-old from Tshisaulu village, outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo, chose to keep her diagnosis a secret from family and friends, fearing discriminations. She told only her three children.

Before her diagnosis, Munyai experienced a severe headache, vomiting, loss of appetite and flu.

“It was on the 25th of December 2020, when I was rushed to a private doctor practice in Thohoyandou and the doctor suggested that I take a COVID-19 test as I was showing all the symptoms of the virus. I think it was within a day after testing and the results came back saying that I was actually positive for COVID-19,” said Munyai.

Understanding the stigma

Limpopo based clinical psychologist Mudzunga Mathivha believes that the stigma associated with COVID-19 makes it difficult for people to disclose their COVID-19 positive diagnosis. There are also fears of spreading the virus to those close to them.

“Stigma which is associated with the virus makes it difficult for people to disclose their COVID-19 diagnosis. People still fear being judged or talked about that they have COVID-19. But people must know and understand that disclosing your diagnosis with people close to you makes it easier for you to protect them from acquiring the virus from you,” said Mathivha.

It is important to remember that COVID-19 can affect anyone, including those who are extra careful practising preventative measures such as wearing face masks and regular handwashing.

“Mentally people have to understand that COVID-19 can affect anyone. It can affect someone who is practicing all the preventative measures and it can also affect those who do not want to practice preventative measures. So, it is better to quickly accept the diagnoses, when one test positive of the virus, so that they can protect others from the virus,” said Mathivha tells Health-e News.

Misinformation fuels stigma

“It is also important to disclose your COVID-19 diagnoses with people close to you, so that you do not end up infecting them unnecessarily. F or example, one might test positive but end up not showing any symptoms so if you do not tell people close to you, you might end up infecting them and some might end up developing severe symptoms or even die,” said Mathivha.

False information about the COVID-19 from untrusted sources on the internet is also instilling fear among communities, warns Mathiva. This makes it difficult for people to accept their COVID-19 diagnoses and seek medical attention sooner. It could also make coping with the disease more difficult.

“People have to refrain from relying for COVID-19 information from social media as most of the information currently circulating on social media is not true and it plays a role in creating fearful mentality amongst communities. To have positive thoughts and strong mental ability when faced with COVID-19, one must rely only on information they get from trusted sources,” said Mathivha.

Providing the right information about COVID-19, addressing misinformation and rumours, as well as building trust with communities, are critical in addressing stigma, according to the World Health Organisation.

Surviving COVID-19

Munyai, who works as a caregiver to the elderly,  decided to self-isolate at home. She lives with two of her three children and let them take care of her,  while protecting themselves with masks and sanitiser.

But Munyai’s health worsened a few days after her diagnosis and she could barely eat on her own. He children thought she needed medical attention but she refused to go to the hospital.

“The way I was so sick and always vomiting, I knew that I had to be taken to the hospital but I refused. I have heard of so many stories of people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 but they never came back alive. I feared dying at the hospital and told myself that it is better I die at home,” she said.

It is common to fear death, especially the elderly or those approaching old age. Some people also fear hospitals and feel they will be mistreated there or may even die at these facilities.

Munyai survived her brush with COVID-19, using a combination of medication from the pharmacy and traditional herbs to soothe her symptoms.

“Even today, I do not know how I managed to stay alive, but I think the herbs and medication which I used played a crucial role and I am grateful for another chance at life. But I am also grateful that all my children did not get the virus, despite taking care of me while I was sick,” she said.

Still a secret

Munyai says that though it took her about a month to fully recover from the effects of the virus. Still, she has not shared her ordeal with other family members or friends, fearing discrimination and judgement.

“In our communities there is still a lot which we do not understand or know about this virus and people can still discriminate against you, despite having fully recovered from this virus. Hence even today, it is still my secret that I am also a COVID-19 survivor,” she added.—Health-e News

*Mavis Munyai’s name has been changed at her request to protect her identity.


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