Due to fear of stigma, potential contacts of COVID-19 cases have refused to report themselves for test, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, has said.
Mr Ihekweazu while speaking at the daily Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing on Thursday said this is preventing the health agency from effectively carrying out its duty.
“The people that are infected have families just like everyone of us and they need to be respected. It affects their mental wellbeing if our response as a society is to stigmatise them.
“This is also preventing our work from happening because some contacts are choosing not to come forward because of society stigma,” he said.
With the daily increase of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, there have been reports of stigmatisation in some parts of the country.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how some patients in Osun State escaped from the dormitory of the Unity School, Ejigbo where they had been isolated.
There were also reports of how some health workers at Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) in Akwa Ibom State fled from their duty posts because they claimed to have come in contact with a COVID-19 patient.
Following these reports, some medical experts urge the Nigerian government to quickly tackle stigmatisation as it fights the incursion of the infectious disease.
The disease has now affected 407 individuals in Nigeria across 22 states, while 128 persons had been discharged and 12 deaths recorded, as of Thursday.
Mr Ihekweazu said if patients are stigmatised, people will choose not to be tested and the virus might go unchecked.
He said this will make the increase in testing become ineffective.
He also said “stigma will not only destroy the great work being done across the country, but it will have a profound impact on the ability to control this outbreak.
“As we increase our testing, it will be counter-productive if at the same time we stigmatise those we are now finding to be infected.
“This means that people will go under ground, they won’t come forward for testing but they will be infected.
“And by being infected and staying underground, they will infect others and the circle will continue,” he said.
He urged Nigerians to support and encourage those infected with the virus.
Speaking in the same vein, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said stigma could cause a situation where the virus is more likely to spread and increase the difficulty of controlling the outbreak.
He said stigmatization prevents persons from seeking health care immediately and discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discrimination against anyone thought to have been in contact with the virus as well as people of certain backgrounds.
“This negative association means those with the disease, their caregivers, family, friends and communities, are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against and treated poorly because of a disease.
“Unfortunately, stigma can prompt social isolation of persons or groups and drives people to hide the illness, prevents them from seeking health care immediately, and discourages them from adopting health behaviour,” he said.
Mr Ehanire urged the public to desist from stigmatizing persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
He also advised persons who test positive for COVID-19 to enter into accredited isolation and treatment centres for proper management.
“This not only gives them the best prospects of survival and recovery, but protects their family and friends, domestic and office staff, and the community, from infection.
“If not, it will be counterproductive. We have developed various isolation and treatment facilities to meet all expectations of security, privacy and comfort, and I, therefore, urge citizens to cooperate with case managers,” he said.
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