Why is #COVID19 associated with so much Social Stigma ?

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As  some of you might already know, yours truly is a doctor by profession and as a frontline worker it was no wonder that I too contracted the COVID infection during the peak of the pandemic. Having the infection taught me a lot about the COVID infection and I gained some fresh perspective too. Today I wish to share those insights through my COVID story with you all.

I remember the date was 22nd April 2021 , it was a sultry afternoon when  coming back home from work, I felt very tired and weak. I attributed it to the hot Delhi weather but it was unusual for me to feel so much fatigue. The next day I woke with a slight fever which made me  suspicions that I might be coming down with the Big C .I got myself tested the next day , but the RT-PCR report came only  three days later and as I suspected , I was COVID positive.

During the first  COVID 19 wave, the Delhi government had put up posters in front of the homes of the infected person informing the general public  that a person residing there was COVID positive and under quarantine for three weeks and they were to face legal action if they stepped out of their home during quarantine. 

But during the second wave of the pandemic , no such notifications were put up so as a responsible citizen I took it upon myself to ring up my neighbors and inform them that I was COVID positive and under voluntary isolation and that they should take adequate measures for their safety (though there was no need as I was not going to step out of my room or home).Thankfully my children were spared the infection.

The next few days were really tough as I developed mild breathlessness, the fever surged and body ache got worse. The pain and fatigue was incapacitating.

Since my husband was away, my kids were the only ones left to take care of me and the housework.I did not inform my parents to keep them safe and to to avoid giving them stress.

It was a challenging time for me, as I was afraid that my children might acquire the infection from me. My young son would keep telling me that he missed me and would often ask for a hug but I had to plead him and sometimes I even shouted at him to keep him out of my room.This was such an emotional roller-coaster!

My daughter had to cook, juggle her online classes , take care of her younger brother and look after my needs too. She matured overnight ! 

Meanwhile my next door  neighbours, whom I had informed about my status, were so scared of getting the infection that they did not step out of their homes.They also took upon themselves the responsibility of informing everyone in our residential complex that I was COVID positive and people should avoid  our home.

My neighbours dutifully telephoned me once daily to enquire about my health and wish me a speedy recovery , how I wish that besides their good wishes they  had also offered me at least a flask of  tea or a bowl of soup/ dal to actually help me recover and help out my children.

They could have left the food at my doorstep but their fear got the better out of them. This treatment coming from a family I had known for years and had helped at all hours of the day, left me shocked.

Thankfully my domestic help was kinder and more humane than my neighbours. Even after I informed her of my condition and gave her the option to take paid leave for few days while I stayed in isolation, she came daily to clean the house ( I did my own cleaning and washing) and even got groceries for us.

Avoid Infection not people 


After about 5 days, I recovered symptomatically but it took time to regain strength .

After 24 days of isolation and once my RT PCR test came out negative , I re-joined work and started seeing patients again. My neighbours still shunned us even though I had told them that the I was now COVID negative and had recovered completely.

The way my neighbours behaved exposed the extent of fear the disease evoked. People shunned us like they once shunned lepers.

This fear is the root cause of the social ostracization and discrimination against the affected person even if they were doctors like me, nurses or police personnel.

While these experiences were bitter they also sensitized me to the fact that COVID 19 brings with it a lot of social stigma for the persons who contract the infection.

What is Social Stigma ?

Social Stigma is discrimination against a particular group of people, place or nation in the form of a negative attitude.

Why do  people with COVID 19 face Social Stigma ?

1.Fear of Infection -The fact that SARS-COV-2 is a highly infectious disease that spreads through touch ,droplet and even aerosol , this means an infected person needs to be kept at a distance of at least 6 feet and people should avoid touching them or the surfaces that come in contact with an infected person to stay safe. While these facts are true, it is equally true that by wearing a mask properly, washing hands frequently , avoiding touching surfaces when outside our homes and by maintaining social distancing we can avoid getting infected.

Imagine if all medical workers stopped touching or taking care of infected people, what would happen?

By using proper protection (mask, gloves, PPE kit etc. ) if a medical worker can continue doing their duty , then any other person can also be careful and avoid the disease 

2. Fear of Death – The belief that COVID 19 infection is always fatal ,this makes people fearful of anyone who is suffering from the disease , as they fear for their life. By sharing more stories of people who have recovered from COVID we can instill a sense of hope.

3.Lack of Information -COVID 19 is a relatively new disease and very little is known about its cure. Not knowing the enemy well instills more fear. What works on one variant does not seem to work on the next variant. Earlier one mask seemed enough , now we need double masking , all these add to the insecurity.

Earlier Chloroquine was touted as a preventive but it was proved ineffective in later studies as a preventive for COVID-19 infection.

Similarly antivirals  like Remdesvir were hailed as the best way to fight the infection but later they were found to have no significant impact unless given very early on. With continuously  changing information we are at a loss ,how to tackle the pandemic.

4. Social Media Scares – Social media was a double edged sword , on one hand Twitter and Instagram helped people in distress in getting oxygen and other medicines that were not available , on the other hand the TV channels by giving hourly update son the number of new cases and deaths added to panic and despair.

Why is it important to reduce Social Stigma associated with COVID 19?

If social discrimination against COVID 19 positive people is allowed to continue, the people with a probable infection may avoid getting tested or may avoid sharing information about their infection. This would only add exponentially to the increase in new cases because without testing and isolation it is tough to contain the spread of the virus.

COVID does not mean the end of life


How to reduce this Social Stigma associated with COVID 19?

1. Avoid using the term COVID victim (as per government guidelines ),instead use “people recovering from COVID “.

2. Avoid frequent newscast of new cases and deaths, like doomsday prophecy.

3. Share more positive stories where people were able to defeat the infection to improve morale.

4. Facts not Fear – Share only confirmed scientific knowledge about the COVID infection. Do not spread hate or rumors.

5.Share sympathetic narratives, or stories that humanize the experiences and struggles of individuals or groups affected by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) so that people are sensitized to the needs of a person suffering from COVID 19.

6. Invoke Support and encouragement for those who are on the frontlines of response to this outbreak (health care workers, volunteers, community leaders etc.).

We are in this fight together. Observing the safety rules, equipped with the right information, treating with compassion and a positive attitude will help us win the battle ! 

                ” This post is a part of Blogchatter’s initiative #CauseAChatter ” 

                                               (Images courtesy – Pexels.com and Canva.com )

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