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Opinions of Friday, 29 May 2020

Columnist: Stephen Atta Owusu

Stigmatization in Ghana as patients recovering from coronavirus return home

According to UNICEF, stigmatization has been very prevalent during this COVID-19 era. This form of stigmatization simply means a stereotyped, unfortunate labelling of discrimination against those who were treated for the disease and recovered.

When such persons return to their homes, they still experience loss of status because of real or perceived links with the disease. Social stigma creates xenophobia and, more seriously, those who have been infected with the virus try to hide the infection for a long time for fear being stigmatized when people know of it.

In Ghana, those who are vulnerable to social stigma are those who have lived abroad and are returning home, those who had the infection but have recovered and, sometimes, family members of infected persons.

In most European countries, unlike Ghana and other African countries, they treat their recovered patients as heroes. There is nothing like stigmatization.

A 47 year old man from Holland was quarantined due to coronavirus infection. He was isolated for three months. Finally he was declared as having recovered completely. When he was released to go home, his neighbours got wind of it.

They lined up in the neighbourhood and clapped continuously when the man arrived in a taxi. Indeed he was given a hero's welcome. Can this happen in Ghana?

Confusion and prejudice leading to social stigma have caused stereotypes and discrimination. A young man waited for a bus at Fomena to take him to Kumasi. After an hour, a bus coming from Cape Coast stopped at Fomena. The young man boarded the bus and observed social distancing. His phone began to ring as the car sped off.

A conversation ensued: "Hello Kofi, I just left Fomena and I am going to Kumasi but I will return to my base at Obuasi. Of course I live in Obuasi..."

The driver slowed down and parked the car by the roadside. He ordered the young man to get down from the bus, for as long as he lived in Obuasi, no one could tell if he had Coronavirus infection or not. Obuasi has the highest number of COVID 19 infection in the Ashanti region. Therefore anyone coming from Obuasi becomes a victim of stigmatization.

It is not easy for Ghanaians living abroad to be easily accepted by friends and families in Ghana for the only reason that COVID-19 entered Ghana from those coming from abroad. Gone are the days when Ghanaians coming from abroad are warmly received. Before the airport and all borders were closed all passengers were quarantined for two weeks.

Due to strict regulations at the Kotoka International Airport, both Ghanaians and foreigners coming to Ghana stopped in Lomé and tried to enter Ghana by road from Aflao. Some succeeded but a majority of travellers were stopped at the border and quarantined.

Bernard lived in New York. He decided to travel to Ghana to spend the Easter with his relatives. Both his friends and family were at the airport to welcome him. Bernard never came out but was taken straight to quarantine. Those who waited for him had to leave after a long wait. Unfortunately after the second week he tested positive to COVID-19.

Luckily after one month he recovered completely. He had the opportunity to go back to his friends and family and to see the house he has built for the first time. As soon as he entered the house, those living there, including his wife, kids and siblings rushed out of the house leaving him alone.

How long will it take Ghanaians to learn that when a person is still sick or healed he should not be stigmatized?

A couple went to the hospital because they were coughing and sneezing all the time. Tests were conducted on them and it came out that they had been infected with coronavirus. Contact tracing was immediately conducted. About forty people including the two children of the sick couple, a 22-year old boy called Emmanuel and a 20-year old girl called Bertha.

Luckily all the forty people tested had no coronavirus infection. The father's sister came to the house to take care of the children. One morning Emmanuel rushed to the neighbourhood shop to buy bread and milk. Before he reached the shop there was a group of boys seated near the shop. They recognised him as the son of the man who has coronavirus infection. They threw stones and stick at him and shouted at him to leave with his virus. The boy took to his heels.

For how long can we label innocent people who are only related to people with COVID-19? Why should people who have recovered completely still continue to be victims of social stigma?

Dear reader, I believe you will agree with me that a law against stigmatization must be passed in order to protect Ghanaians, that is if there is no law like this in Ghana. Many people hide the infection for a very long time due to problem and fear of stigmatization. By not reporting early, many people get infected.

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