Covid stigma, a new kind of racism

Covid stigma, a new kind of racism

Harinder Singh Bedi

An alarming incident happened about a month ago when the scare of the pandemic was at its peak. We had performed a non-Covid emergency heart surgery in the middle of the night. All my staff had come immediately, after quite a few police checks on the way. The next day, my OT nurse looked quite upset. Her landlord had asked her to vacate her PG room as he was afraid that she might bring Covid infection. I immediately contacted the authorities and the matter was sorted out. I came to know that such incidents were quite common, especially in Delhi and Mumbai.

Cases have been reported of people affected with Covid-19 facing discrimination on account of heightened fear and misinformation about the infection. This is just another form of racism. This major problem is cropping up repeatedly. As a doctor, I know that today anyone can get infected, in spite of all precautions. It is a pandemic. What is alarming is that the ‘finding’ of a victim is treated with great unnecessary drama. The person is stigmatised and he and his family is made to feel like criminals. The taking of such a person to quarantine or hospital in an ambulance, surrounded by Hazmat PPE-suited healthcare workers, and sometimes the police, is dramatised. Even neighbours start making videos or clicking pictures. It is a request to please desist from shaming the victim. Medical shaming will only encourage people to hide symptoms. It is not a fault, deficiency or a failure of the patient. This attitude creates an atmosphere of scorn, dishonour and disgrace. What you can do is show support to the person and his family, give a thumbs-up sign, call up the family and pledge your full support. The way the pandemic is going, anyone of us can find the police or ambulance at our doorstep. I am sure you would not like anyone filming you or your family being taken in the ambulance.

Worst is, if it is a doctor or nurse or other healthcare worker who has got the infection in the line of duty. Please support them, and also stand at attention and give a salute. Just paying lip service by calling them corona warriors is not enough. Do not try and evict the family from your neighbourhood (it has happened). It is just a viral infection, like a common cold. It must be noted that the condition is curable and most people recover from it. The person is just unwell, not a criminal. The physical scars of the virus will heal, but the mental scars of ill treatment will not.

We must strictly follow precautions. Despite all precautions, if anybody catches the infection, it is not totally their fault. Fight paranoia, prejudices and misinformation.

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