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General News of Monday, 20 April 2020

Source: Kwame Kwakye, Contributor

Use coronavirus survivors to lead public education to reduce stigmatization - Medical Sociologist

Dr. Eric Koka Dr. Eric Koka

A Medical Sociologist of the University of Cape Coast, Dr. Eric Koka has said the best way to reduce stigma against persons infected with Coronavirus is to use survivors to lead the public education in Ghana.

He stated that the increase in the number of the coronavirus cases means something good has happened in terms of the rigorous testing, tracing and treatment of the of Covid-19 pandemic. He added that, the country Ghana has done well with the measures put in place so far.

He further explained that, the term social distancing has been misapplied but the actual word ought to have been physical distancing. He explained that physical distancing is keeping some 1.5 meters between you and someone but social distancing isn't applicable because these are the times we need each other in order to reduce stress and psychological pressure on others. He said "social distancing is contributing to stigma and even World Health Organization has indicated the need to use physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need one another now than before".

He outline some five tips of physical distancing. The first is when one is in a supermarket or in a queue, take a step or two back from the person in front of you. Second, keep chatting to people but do that at 1.5 metres away. Third, on public transport, keep two seats between you and others and avoid crowds. The fourth point is, when in a taxi sit on the back seat and fifth point is when jogging or exercising avoid doing that in large crowds and still keep to the 1.5 metres distancing.

When assessing the African situation of the pandemic, Dr. Koka said from an observation it appears respiratory illnesses don't normally kill Africans as compared to others from other parts of the world. He added that Ghana has done creditable well with its measures in dealing with the pandemic and we all need to support government in that direction.

When asked how he expects people to react after the lockdown has been lifted in Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi, Dr. Koka said he saw a video on social media where some people were jubilating after the President's speech but expects people to be rational in their behaviour. "Our health is in our hands and has always been in our hands as Africans".

He was speaking to Benjamin Nartey on GBC Radio Central's Central Morning Show Monday 20th April 2020.

The medical sociologist advised people should eat well to boost their immune system and observe all the necessary protocols including physical distancing, hand washing, the use of sanitizers etc.

When asked why stigma is attached to coronavirus, he explained that all diseases that have racial angles normally are associated with stigma. He added that coronavirus was called the 'Chinese virus' by President Trump. "All such things influences stigma". He continued that there are two types of stigma: self stigma and enacted stigma.

Self stigma is when people withdraw from talking about their symptoms or conditions to others because of the experiences of others while enacted stigma results from the attitude of people about the infected.

The only way we can reduce stigma is to use those who have recovered of covid-19 to do community education. That would prove that coronavirus can be managed and one get better and recover. He further said stigma affects people leading to stress and mental torture.

The second is to interview those who are infected but not in critical condition to share their experiences so as to demystify the myths associated with the disease. "Those who have coronavirus shouldn't be stigmatised but rather shown compassion".