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Stigma haunts Covid survivors

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While numbers of Covid-19 recoveries continue to rise in Malawi, inspiring hope against the disease, those that are healed are walking into life of despair as they have to grapple with stigma and discrimination, The Sunday Times has learnt.

As of Friday, Malawi registered a total of 7,815 recoveries.

One of those is Bazilio Nkhoma from Mchinji. Nkhoma recovered from Covid-19 recently but the story of his life has changed in the way he relates with his community. He came face to face with stigma and discrimination after being discharged from isolation.’

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Nkhoma

“Some people physically ran away from me. They would pretend to be doing something just to make sure they create a distance from me. Others even uttered words suggesting ‘sorry we can’t come close to you since you’re sick’,” he said.

Nkhoma said while he had steeled himself mentally when he was diagnosed Covid-19 positive, he feels bad that there are still people who run away from a Covid-19 survivor.

“I feel bad to see someone running away from a Covid-19 survivor. I have had a number of friends in such scenarios,” Nkhoma said.

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Daud Suleman from Blantyre who tested positive last year said he suffered a lot of stigma when he was cleared, mostly because people did not know if a recovered person was safe or could infect them.

Daud

”I had friends shunning me and some of my close friends were being shunned because they were being considered to be at risk because they had been close to me. It was a bad feeling. When one recovers what they expect is a normal integration back [into the community] because the quarantine makes a human being experience loneliness, and being back in the community is an expected thing,” he said.

Suleman however said the support and love he received from his close family and friends made him feel welcome back into the community.

“Stigma doesn’t worsen the condition but it breaks the recovery spirit. It is not good to be caged or isolated or worse more to be shunned by friends and family. It does not help at all. Let’s embrace and welcome back recovering patients. For those that are positive, let’s give them morale and support. It’s a tough disease and we need to hold hands,” he added.

In Balaka, Luke Chimwaza has had his fair share of stigma and discrimination after recovering from Covid-19. He feels he faced stigma probably because he came in the open.

 

In his view, “Covid-19 related stigma can worsen one’s condition especially those in mandatory monitored isolation centres like hospitals and other places. This is so because people can no longer visit them and there is a belief that once people are admitted and away from their family members, chances of recovering are low.”

He said that feeling of loneliness in an isolation centre is compounded by imaginations of what people out there are discussing about you.

Clinical psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe said although experts in the country have not done enough research on stigma and discrimination towards Covid-19 survivors, the disease is essentially discriminatory.

“Stigma and discrimination affects the psychology of a person if not handled properly. So with the outbreak of Covid-19, the masses should be sensitised on the dangers of stigma and discrimination,” Bandawe said.

Director of Mental Health in the Ministry of Health Michael Udedi said government has developed Covid-19 related messages to sensitise people of the pandemic and the dangers of stigma.

“We are trying our best to educate the masses about Covid-19. But we still need more stakeholders to help us now that the issues to do with stigma and discrimination are escalating among those that have been healed,” he said.

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