Stigma, according to the World Health Organization, is when an identifiable group of people, place or nation are being discriminated against. This happens because there is the lack of knowledge concerning diseases, which leads to fear and anxiety. This fear and anxiety in turn leads individuals to gossip, spread rumors and myths because they feel the need to blame someone or something for the happenings they cannot understand.
Thus, during pandemics when much is unknown about the disease, negative behaviours may occur when people link a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population, community, or nationality. This brings about fear and anxiety leads to the social stigmatization of people who are believed to have contracted or are healed from the disease, this stigmatization manifest in varied ways such as labeling, stereotyping and discrimination.
Groups of people who may experience stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- Certain racial and ethnic minority groups, including Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and black or African Americans;
- People who tested positive for COVID-19, have recovered from being sick with COVID-19, or were released from COVID-19 quarantine;
- Emergency responders or healthcare providers;
- Other frontline workers, such as grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, or farm and food processing plant workers;
- People who have disabilities or developmental or behavioral disorders who may have difficulty following recommendations;
- People who have underlying health conditions that cause a cough.
- People living in congregate (group) settings, such as people experiencing homelessness.
Stigmatization may have negative effects on the emotional, mental, and physical health of stigmatized individuals, groups and their communities. Individuals who are stigmatized may experience isolation, depression, anxiety, or public embarrassment. To make individuals and communities safer and healthier it is important to stop stigma especially stigma related to Covid-19. This can be done by knowing the facts and sharing them with others in their communities.
Community leaders and public health officials can help prevent stigma by:
- Maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of those seeking healthcare and those who may be part of any contact investigation.
- Quickly communicating the risk, or lack of risk, from contact with products, people, and places.
- Correcting negative language that can cause stigma by sharing accurate information about how the virus spreads.
- Speaking out against negative behaviours and statements, including those on social media.
- Making sure that images used in communications show diverse communities and do not reinforce stereotypes.
- Using media channels, including news media and social media, to speak out against stereotyping groups of people who experience stigma because of COVID-19.
- Thanking healthcare workers, responders, and others working on the front lines.
- Suggesting virtual resources for mental health or other social support services for people who have experienced stigma or discrimination.
Supported by STAR Ghana Foundation with funding from UKAID and the European Union