Stigma around COVID Survivors Silences the Joy of Recovery
The coronavirus pandemic has spread all over the world, and the lockdown was observed for an extensive period of time, across the country making people stressed out staying at home. The impact of coronavirus pandemic has affected lots of people in the world and the world is witnessing growing deaths due to the pandemic. However, the good news is that many people have recovered from COVID-19 and they have returned home safely. But it has been reportedly observed that people have been facing a problem of discrimination and social stigma, even after recovering from COVID-19; the problem of being abused and receiving undesirable comments. Some people are yet to realize that many victims have recovered and they have been discharged from hospitals and isolation centres and are completely safe. A bulk of people thinks that those who have been victims are never safe to be with. This is very pathetic and making the life of the recovered very difficult. The stigma that the COVID-19 survivors are experiencing is making them feel incapable, afraid, terrified, nervous and often incomplete. Practically the COVID-19 survivors are not experiencing the joy of recovery.
Newspapers, television and social media, are continuously publishing news of higher confirmed cases and positive cases, also deaths are reported, that heightens panic. With the passage of time, common people are afraid of the news streaming all around the country; this fear and anxiety are finding expression in different kinds of behaviour in the form of rage and intolerance towards the victims and their families. People are showing their anger on the recovered patients who are affected by COVID-19. It is very important to understand that people who have recovered are not unsafe; they are totally safe and they need some rest and a good environment conducive to a quicker recovery. But people around the victims are deliberately and knowingly abusing them and using bad languages on them, they are treating them miserably. It appears from the behaviours of people as if the victims and their families are not supposed to live in the same societies or localities as before, even if they are safe and have recovered. The recovered victims are not even allowed to buy essentials from local shops. Due to this reason, many people, after recovery had to change their residences and change their localities. It has been seen in the news channels that some victims are being treated by their neighbours very badly.
Here is a case in point in Chennai. A woman, Mrs. X whose 68-year-old husband had been a COVID-19 patient sometimes back and was fighting with COVID-19 in a hospital, lived in an apartment on a rental basis. It was reported that, because of her husband’s infection, her neighbours had been throwing terrible comments at her. Though her husband had tested positive for COVID-19, with the treatment he was recovering; he was quite weak, he was in need of a little more time to completely recover (Nath, 2020). It is pathetic that the lady was receiving very uncooperative behaviour from her neighbours. Recently after returning home, the lady came out to dry her clothes on the terrace of her house. Then her neighbours threw verbal abuses and insults at her. This is one incident; if we keep an eye on social media and news platforms, many such cases are observed.
In another case, a COVID-19 survivor in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri has been compelled to sell his house and leave his locality. (Economic Times, 2020). In another case, reported in West Bengal, some people labelled houses of corona survivors as ‘Corona Houses’ and isolated them (Business Insider, 2020).
This is common all over India, and many people across the country have been affected. Another case in point is that of Dr. Y in Surat. This doctor, who recovered from COVID-19 recently, was locked up in her flat, threatened and verbally alleged by her neighbours after she returned home (Desk, 2020). The doctor, who works in a government hospital, had contracted the virus while treating COVID-19 patients. The day when she returned home to her Surat apartment after being released from the hospital for home quarantine, her neighbour Mr. Manish (name changed) allegedly asked her to quit her present residence and shift elsewhere. The neighbour supposedly abused her verbally and then locked her inside her house. The woman was a single occupant of her flat and had no one by her side to support her in times of distress. Around 4:30 pm, the same day, Mr. Manish, the neighbour, came and started hurling abuses and screaming at her, saying that she is a corona positive and that she can’t stay there. Even after explaining to him that she had two confirmed negative reports and have been satisfactorily discharged from the isolation centre, he refused to withdraw his words and treated the woman horribly. Finally, the doctor complained to the police, and they had filed a case against Mr. Manish.
There have been similar instances from across the country of health workers, police personnel and other officials on coronavirus duty being attacked by mobs. People who are to be treated as COVID warriors are discriminated in society because they come close to the infected. A couple of months before, the body of a doctor from Andhra Pradesh who died from COVID-19 was not allowed at a Chennai crematorium. In Meghalaya’s Shillong, locals had refused to allow the last rites of a 69-year-old doctor who died after contracting coronavirus infection.
In a nutshell, people are very rude to COVID-19 victims; this affects them mentally and this, in turn, impinges on their family members. Due to this, stress and anxiety increases and impacts on their physical health; already because of lockdown and the virus spread in the family they would have gone through a lot of mental stress and trauma, so these kinds of incidents are likely to affect them more seriously.
All these will have a psychological impact on people’s lives. There will be instances of stress, fear and worry about health and the health of one’s loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating; there will be behavioural impacts, viz increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. People who are affected by COVID-19 have not done anything wrong, and they deserve our support, compassion and kindness. To add here people’s thought processes are impacted by infodemics, i.e. too much overload of negative information about the pandemic. The root of infodemics is continuous watching of news channels, social media, and newspapers about COVID-19 etc. This information overload causes people to feel anxious or distressed; a certain percentage of the news they collect via these sources might be actually fake. Instead, they should seek information from trusted sources. People need to take practical steps to prepare their plans and protect themselves and their loved ones. People need to seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice. The constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. Because of this, many people are afraid and they think the recovered people can still affect and infect other people, so this needs to be taken care of. Besides, another hazard is that of information hiding, patients with symptoms will tend to hide the illness to evade discrimination.
Common people need to realize the fact that recovered people have their own family and children. In case such abuses are reported, there should be adequate action taken by the police. People must be made to realize the seriousness of the impact. To deal with social stigma related to COVID-19, World Health Organization has suggested of crafting an environment where there should be a forum and an open platform to discuss the various issues among people and healthcare workers and every possible effort should be made to scientifically de-stigmatise COVID-19. There should be attempts by educational institutions, Government and NGOs, workplaces to conduct training sessions to build a better and considerate understanding of the disease and the consequences of stigma on patients.
It is important to stay positive, spread positivity and have positive vibes. As responsible citizens, we need to know more about this COVID-19 from a scientific perspective and stand by the side of people who have just recovered from COVID-19 and have been blessed by a new life with medical support and grace of the almighty. It is the need of the day to communicate about COVID-19 in an effective manner, choosing right words, avoiding threatening examples, not creating panic and support people to take right action and assist them to combat the disease; all these will help to avoid fuelling fear and stigma in the society.
Business Insider (2020). COVID-19 survivors in Bengal socially isolated by kin, neighbours; slip into deep depression. Retrieved on Aug1, 2020 from: https://www.businessinsider.in/india/news/covid-19-survivors-in-bengal-socially-isolated-by-kin-neighbours-slip-into-deep-depression/articleshow/76672899.cms
Desk, I. (2020, April 06). They think I will bring coronavirus to building: Surat doctor on being attacked, abused by neighbours. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.indiatoday.in/msn-it/story/they-think-i-will-bring-coronavirus-to-building-surat-doctor-on-being-attacked-abused-by-neighbours-1664084-2020-04-07
Nath, A. (2020, May 01). Neighbours abuse Chennai woman after she recovers from Covid-19. Cops, officials come to rescue. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/chennai-coronavirus-covid19-patient-recovers-woman-abused-by-neighbours-1673391-2020-05-01
The Economic Times. 2020. Covid-19 survivor forced to put house on sale due to inhuman behaviour of neighbours. Retrieved on July 20, 2020 fromhttps://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-survivor-forced-to-put-house-on-sale-due-to-inhuman-behaviour-of-neighbours/videoshow/75127295. cms?from=mdr
1. Dr. Tanusree Chakraborty
Associate Professor, Rajalakshmi School of Business, Chennai
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Ashritha M
PGDM II year Student, Rajalakshmi School of Business, Chennai