Social Stigma can occur in disease outbreaks when a specific disease is associated with any group of individuals. As a result, these people are likely to get labeled, stereotyped, stigmatized, bullied, racially discriminated, and experience loss of their status. This can negatively affect them, their families, and their relatives. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a lot of fear and panic about the disease. There is a lack of understanding and uncertainty regarding COVID-19. People have misconceptions that it has been associated with a certain group of individuals alone. The Social distancing that is advocated as a preventive measure to control the spread of COVID-19 can be misconstrued and easily manifest as social discrimination. The social stigma in India with COVID-19 has been currently based on racial profiling (such as people of Chinese descent), infectious status (People with coronavirus infection or possible infection), and occupation (Health professionals). Stigma due to Covid-19 thus can pose a serious barrier to help-seeking, which could lead to disease spread among the population.
What can be done?
- DO talk about the disease (COVID-19), But DO NOT use terms such as 'Wuhan virus/ Chinese virus, etc'.
- SOCIAL DISTANCING is not to be confused with SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION. It's okay to stay safe by keeping a distance of 1-2 meters. Treat everyone as a human with equal status and opportunity.
- DO talk about people with COVID-19, or people recovering from COVID-19, or people who may have COVID-19. DO NOT use 'COVID-19 or COVID-19 suspect'
- DO talk about people acquiring/contracting NOT people infecting/spreading the infection. This means that somehow, we may attach a deliberate intent of spreading the infection that can further induce stigma.
- DO TALK positively about the situation. DO NOT use terms such as infection resembles a plague or apocalypse or world is about to end etc. DO NOT share or repeat rumors.
- DO talk about the effectiveness of preventive measures and that for most people this is a disease that can be overcome.
- DO NOT dwell on the negatives or messages about the threat it poses. Correct misconceptions and do not encourage false propagation.
- Encourage the importance of prevention and early screening
- Share sympathetic stories and narratives of struggle about those who have had COVID-19 Communicate support and encouragement to frontline workers in this emergency (health care workers, doctors, volunteers, and community leaders).
Social stigma increases during infectious disease outbreaks and is often not given the emphasis required. Steps need to be taken at all levels to ensure that stigmatizing behaviors are strongly discouraged. A failure to control stigma will impede and slow disease control response.