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Opinions of Monday, 3 August 2020

Columnist: D. C. Kwame Kwakye

Coronavirus and stigmatisation: Assessing some of the experiences of a CEO

File photo: Coronavirus File photo: Coronavirus

The president of the Republic of Ghana delivered his 14th Coronavirus address to the nation on Sunday, the 26th Day of July, 2020. In that address the president said among others that "We are in the fifth month of the outbreak of COVID-19 on our shores. At first glance, it is alarming to see that thirty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixty-nine (32,969) people have so far contracted the virus.

But a closer look at the data will tell you that we are steadily on the path towards limiting and containing the virus, and, ultimately, defeating it. The figure to look out for is the number of active cases" (Akufo-Addo, 2020). He further went on to give the statistics of the active coronavirus cases and that of the recovered cases. The President said as at 27th June, 2020, the active virus cases, stood at four thousand, two hundred and forty-five (4,245) but added that as at midnight of 24th July, nearly a month later, the number of active cases in Ghana stood at three thousand, three hundred and seven (3,307).

In trying to let Ghanaians calm even though the number of cases have gone up, the president said, barely a month ago, the number of recoveries stood at twelve thousand, nine hundred and ninety-four (12,994). "Today, it is twenty-eight thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven (29,494). This means our recovery rate has improved from seventy-five percent (75%) of positives, a month ago, to eighty-nine point five percent (89.5%)" (Akufo-Addo, 2020). It can be deduced from the President's narration that while our active cases are declining, the number of recoveries is very encouraging. Indeed, the the data should tell every Ghana we have over twenty-nine thousand persons who have been discharged and have recovered from coronavirus. These individuals are expected to live among us without any stress from any form of repudiation. But, unfortunately, that isn't the case in Ghana.

Stigmatisation and the experiences of the CEO

Stigmatisation has been attached to a lot of illnesses that have befallen mankind. Some diseases and medical conditions that have affected people such leprosy, mental illness, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and childlessness have all attracted stigmatisation. The reason why people stigamitse others are varied and might include; anxiety, lack of education, lack of awareness, lack of perception, and the nature and complications of the of disease. For example with mental illness, odd behaviours and violence that the suffered might exhibit. All these are some causes of stigmatisation.

Stigmatisation according to Bell (2020) is defined as "The marking, labeling or spoiling of an identity, which leads to ostracism, marginalization, discrimination, and abuse.

From this definition, it means society has labelled and marked others wrongly which has e lead them to being either abused or ostracised for no fault of theirs. Even if it is their fault, society is supposed to rather sooth the pain of those in difficulty or marginalised and make them feel part of us but sadly, we tend to neglect, repudiate those that society finds something wrong with them.

Coronavirus has now been added to the diseases that attracts stigma across the world but somehow pronounced in Africa and for that matter Ghana our motherland. This virus can and has demonstrated its ability to affect people of all social strata: nobility and the proletariat, the political class and the governed, security men and civilians etc.

In Ghana for example some some high ranking officials including the Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, Education Minister, Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Regional Reorganisation Minister, Dan Kwaku Botwe, Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah, Deputy CEO for Coastal Development Authority (CODA) Kofi Karikari Bondzie have all been infected by Covid-19. They have all been treated, recovered and discharged. When the condition of all these high ranking members of the government were made public, most people realised that, the virus was real and it was assumed that such announcement would help abate the stigma that was associated with earlier recoverers but unfortunately that isn't the case.

Mr. Kofi Karikari Bondzie, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the CODA got infected with the virus, went into isolation, tested, treated and discharged. The author decided to interview him to share his experiences about coronavirus as part of educating the general public. The interview was held on 25th day of July, 2020 on GBC Radio Central, Cape Coast.

In his narration on this authors programme, he recounted three highly reprehensible stigmatisation encounters, that is worth sharing. He said, some friends of his driver visited their usual drinking bar, and this time they were sacked by other customers. When they asked why, some of the customers at the bar retorted "Their boss is a Covid-19 patient and we cannot allow his driver's friends to patronise this bar". He continued that "Even though I call it positive experience because I want my driver and friends to stop drinking but the experience is very bad for him". The question I ask is; if he has been infected and discharged how does he Infect others? If his driver was hale and hearty, why would others stigmatise his friends? Is it ignorance or lack of Education?

The second experience he went through was that, there was a political party meeting at a town called Yiomoa. He explained to this author that, his own family member took to the podium at the meeting and announced that he was a Covid-19 patient and that he wasn't needed at the venue. He quizzed, "That was very difficult for me because how can my own family member behave this way".

The third stigmatisation ordeal the NPP Vice Chair and the deputy CEO narrated to was that, his outfit was collaborating with the Fisheries Commission to distribute outboard motors to some inhabitants in the fishing community. According to him, his counterpart was to call him so they could meet to verify the number of outboard motors before handing they could hand them over to the Central Region Minister. He continued that, he waited and the Fisheries Commission guy never called him because of he is a Covid-19 recoverer. He told me "I was furious and gave it to him well, well".

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a type of common virus that infects humans, typically leading to an upper respiratory Infection (URI.) There are seven different types of human coronavirus that have been identified. Most people will be infected with at least one type of coronavirus in their lifetime. These viruses spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, touching an object or surface contaminated with the virus and rarely, by fecal contamination. The diseases caused by most coronaviruses usually lasts a short time and is characterized by sore throat, cough, runny nose, feeling unwell, and fever (Stöppler 2018).

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means, they are transmitted from animals to humans. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans (WHO, 2020). This implies that, Covid-19 was transfered from animal to man. It is also explained that coronavirus was transmitted from bat's to man, but since most humans do not have direct contact with bats, it is possible the virus was rather in another animal which was then transfered to humans. Whichever of the scenarios is correct, Covid-19 is here with us.

In order to help readers appreciate coronavirus as a zoonitic disease, I provide some others disease that afflicted and continue tonafflict humanity that were transfered from animals to humans. The following are examples: animal flu, anthrax, bird flu, dengue fever, Ebola, hepatitis E, malaria, rabies, ringworm, swine flu etc (Wells, 2017).

In conclusion, a lot of common diseases such as malaria, rabies, swine flu, bird flu and ebola even though well-known to humans, were first transfered from animals to humans. Even malaria which is very prevalent in Africa and other tropical countries is also a zoonotic disease. So why don't we stigmatise those who get infected with malaria? Why stigmatise those who have contracted Covid-19? Is it as a result of the media hype surrounding coronavirus?

As we continue to keep animals either as pets or rear them for business purposes, then, there is the tendency of other kinds of diseases that are know only to affect animals being transfered to humans. Indeed some people even keep wild animals such lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, snakes etc as pets. In some countries, snakes, frogs live fish, pangolin, bears meat etc are sold and eaten as delicacies.

In as much as humans would continue to have contact with animals as pets and also continue to eat both wild and domestic animals, new strain of viruses can occur. Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus which we pray it shall pass away very soon. Otherwise it has the tendency to become endemic. Should that happen, it would resurface from time to time and cause havoc to humanity and be seen as one of the normal diseases that can affect man. Should that be the case and with the absence of a cure and vaccine, are we going to continue to stigamatise the thousands and millions who shall recover from COVID-19?

During President Akufo-Addo's 14th speech on coronavirus, he admonished Ghanaians to desist from stigmatising others. He said and I quote "Our fight against the stigmatisation of persons, who have contracted COVID-19, continues in earnest". "Those engaged in this anti-social act should stop, as stigmatisation drives away people from getting screened, tested and treated". "The virus is no respecter of persons, and the overwhelming majority of persons who have tested positive, recover, indeed, have recovered". This is the gravamen of the issue. If we continue to stigmatise against those who have recovered from coronavirus, then, that would discourage others from voluntarily opting to test, and if positive, get treated. We are told that once someone gets treated of Covid-19, he cannot infect others with the disease, so why are people stigmatising others? The whole world is waging a war against an unknown enemy, and that is coronavirus. The best we can do is not to stigmatise those who have recovered from Covid-19 but rather to provide support and let them feel welcomed into our midst.

From the look of things and from the way things are, it highly anticipated that, coronavirus would be around for a little longer. We may continue to observe all the protocols including wearing of nose mask for quite a longer time. Since there is no known cure, and a vaccine hasn't been developed yet, then we are all at risk of getting the virus. Ever since Ghana recorded our first case of Covid-19 in March, my personal prayer has always been that, the number of deaths from coronavirus should be very low as compared to those who would recover and survive.

Because I knew that, there shall be infections and deaths as a result but never anticipated stigma as part of the problem. We are all at risk and anyone could be infected. The question we should be pondering over is, should any of us be infected, treated and discharged, would we be happy if we are stigmatise against? If no, then, the quest to stop stigmatising those who have recovered from coronavirus start with us. Say no to stigmatisation and the world can the battle early than we anticipate.