In sub-Saharan Africa, the authorities no longer act solely on the health front against Covid-19. To effectively combat the pandemic, they must also fight the stigma of people who are suspected of being ill and their caregivers.
From Senegal to Kenya, the emergency is no longer just limited and is seeking treatment for Covid-19. In sub-Saharan Africa, the authorities have spoken out against the stigma of those who are suspected of being sick and of caregivers. “The coronavirus is not a disgraceful disease,” they repeat.
This is necessary because people who are suspected of having the virus are recognized at work, in their neighborhood and even in their homes and on social networks.
A month ago, Fatou, a Senegalese woman in her twenties, who prefers not to give her real first name, had the bitter experience. After being in contact with a patient, the young woman – who was immediately confined to her room – was discharged from her neighborhood.
“Messages spread on social networks, with my first name, my last name and my address,” says the young girl, who doesn’t even want to state in which city Senegal she lives. Then, young people in the neighborhood began to spread lies, claiming she “had got the virus by sleeping with whites,” she said.
Fatou, who never left her room before she was tested negative, still had to spend two weeks in isolation at a hotel when she had no symptoms. Doctors who followed her had received “anonymous calls,” she said. This at least allowed him to breathe, “far from gossip”.
Health and researchers are also victims of stigma. In Gabon, Jocelyn – again a borrowed first name – suffers a biologist who tests suspected cases in Libreville “this discrimination every day”.
With his team, he tries to remain discreet when entering the home, even if it means putting himself in danger. “We work with our costumes inside rather than on the porch,” he says.
“The Gabonians are panicked over the idea of coming home,” so we try to organize tests “somewhere else, in neutral places,” he says.
Because the situation can deteriorate quickly. In the neighboring country, in Cameroon, the other who was tested positive by its owner was expelled, testifies Professor Yap Boum, epidemiologist in Yaoundé.
Stigma is not Africa’s authority and has seen everywhere, he nuances.
Racist acts in China
Africans living in China have themselves been victims of stigmatization and racist acts. At the beginning of April, posters “banned for blacks” were multiplied, for example, in the province of Canton.
Africans were also chased from their homes and forced to sleep on the street because no hotel accepted them. The rise in racial rhetoric and conversation began after five Nigerians in Canton, who tested positive for Covid-19, escaped quarantine. The case led to a scream and caused a flurry of xenophobic comments on the Internet.
“We have to take the psychological aspect into account if we want to win that battle,” says Yap Boum. Especially since the caregivers are not spared. “They are doubly stigmatized,” he explains. At work, where staff from other departments sometimes refuse to “talk to them or use the same toilet as them” and at home where they are sometimes “seen as bullying”.
Cameroonian nurses were left by their husbands, driven from their homes because they worked in coronavirus units, secures psychiatrist Laure Menguene Mviena, responsible for the psychological response to Covid-19 in Yaoundé.
To deal with this discrimination, which is also directed at people who have contracted Covid and who left the hospital, African authorities and NGOs emphasize awareness raising. The management of the epidemic depends on it, because people who carry the virus were afraid of being depleted of their society can refrain from being tested, wearing a mask or isolating themselves so as not to contaminate their loved ones.
The # COVID-19 threatens everyone, without any distinction! Everyone is concerned and must respect preventive measures.
It is also important to show empathy for those affected by the disease. Now is the time for solidarity, not stigma. https://t.co/QrYcZgL7Uu
– WHO Central African Republic (@OMSCentrafrique) April 13, 2020
Awareness often involves testimony from people who were healed after meeting Covid-19. In Ivory Coast, a young woman said on TV that she was rejected by her relatives after being found positive for the disease. “Avoid stigmatizing people infected with coronavirus. Stigma is very painful and kills faster than the disease itself,” she said.
The Ivorian footballer Franck Kessiéa took part in an awareness campaign started by the Ivorian Red Cross. “No one is responsible for#coronavirus# COVID-19. Let’s be united with the sick, ”he said in a short video published on social networks.
For its part, UNICEF’s West and Central Africa office has published on its website a “mini-guide to avoid stigma associated with coronavirus”. In particular, the United Nations Agency for the Protection of Children calls for “adopting positive language and emphasizing the importance of taking effective preventive measures”.