Published: 10th May 2020
Doctors ask citizens not to stigmatise COVID-19 patients, their families
There have been several incidents of name and shame, discrimination, verbal abuse and hostility against patients' families, doctors, and health workers
With the number of COVID-19 cases continuously increasing in the country, there have been several incidents of name and shame, discrimination, verbal abuse and hostility against patients' families, doctors, and health workers.
Several doctors have warned against any attempt to attach any kind of stigma to COVID-19 patients, which will have serious social repercussions. They also spoke about the impact of home quarantine on COVID-19 patients.
Analysing the stigma attached to COVID-19, Dr Om Prakash, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, Delhi, said, "The sad part about this entire pandemic is stigmatisation. Earlier, stigma was attached to tuberculosis, leprosy and mental illness."
"It is absolutely unacceptable to attach any kind of stigma to COVID-19 patients. We are living in the 21st century. The government needs to take more steps to check it if it's taking place in any form. The media should be more sensible," said Prakash.
Currently, India is in the third phase of lockdown with 62,939 confirmed COVID-19 cases. It has been noticed recently that India is seeing a surge of asymptomatic cases. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in a press briefing recently stated that "we have to learn to live with the virus. For that, we need to introduce certain behavioural changes - to implement social distancing practices to combat this virus."
Dr Rajiv Mehta, vice-chairperson, Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Sir Gangaram Hospital, explains, "From time immemorial infectious disease carries a stigma."
"Actions have to be taken in two places to cope with this kind of stigma. Firstly, the quarantined must not think that he has made a mistake. He has taken the responsibility not to spread the virus. Secondly, the facts have to be known. The government should take more steps to reduce stigma. More thorough education is needed and terms like infection, carriers and many such similar words should be omitted."
According to the Union Health Ministry's guidelines, the home quarantine period is for 14 days from contact with a confirmed case or earlier if a suspect case (of whom the index person is a contact) turns out negative on laboratory testing.
However, facts suggest that in India families under home quarantine have faced severe discrimination from the society at large.
Experts are of the opinion that the age of the person quarantined also plays a pivotal factor. Youth, children, or elder age groups have more negative impacts but a little tolerance and positivity makes the situation reliable.
The latest bulletin of the Delhi government has stated the total number of COVID-19 positive patients under home isolation is 937.
Talking about home quarantine, Dr Mehta said, "Quarantine itself is negative but home quarantine is more positive than other kinds of quarantine as the person is in a familiar environment. It, however, definitely has a negative impact."
Dr Om Prakash is of the view that under home quarantine, a person becomes more comfortable. "In hospitals or at quarantine facilities, the people do not get that emotional warmth. But a person under home quarantine should ensure that all the guidelines are followed," he added.
The government spokespersons and doctors have repeatedly stressed the fact that in India around 80 per cent COVID-19 positive cases have been treated successfully. Around 20 per cent cases require supportive care and only 5 per cent require ventilator support that too mostly with comorbidities.
As suggestions have been made, either from the government or medical experts, 'to learn to live with coronavirus' and be obliged to every advised measure to cut the chain of transmission, an empathetic outlook rising above the stigma is what India desperately requires right now.