Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has urged the public to avoid stigma related to COVID-19, but instead show solidarity in the fight against the pandemic.
The call comes as reports emerged that some patients who recovered from COVID-19 and those released from quarantines after testing negative for the virus as well as their family members were subjected to stigma attacks by neighbours and colleagues.
In a recent tweet, one of the people who was discharged from quarantine narrated how she had encountered an "unfair" experience.
She said: "It's really unfair to stigmatise a person for something they have no control over. Excluding one because they were quarantined or tested positive can't be justified as the way to save 'yourself'."
She continued to say that: "If I tested negative and my family was shunned, what about those who tested positive, recovered and had to come back to their homes?"
The individual was quarantined as a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, but was discharged afterwards when she tested negative.
Speaking to The New Times, Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the Head of Mental Health Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), noted that embracing facts about this pandemic can prevent this kind of stigma.
She said: "Apparently, anyone can catch this virus given the right situation. So, no one should be stigmatized or blamed for being infected with COVID-19."
"To avoid such stigma, we have to look for facts about this pandemic. For instance, patients are treated and they recover from this Virus. Therefore there is no reason to confuse someone's identity with the state of his or her health," she added.
In addition to this, Kayitashonga also noted that this does not mean that preventive measures should not be observed as advised by health personnel.
Impact of this stigma
According to Dr Kayitashonga, when a person is stigmatised, it affects his or her mental health.
She said: "If someone is stigmatized after being discharged from a treatment or quarantine centre, that person starts doubting on his or her recovery and this affects the immune system of this person."
She also noted that: "The stigmatised person also starts having stress due to being treated as odd in the society. This also affects their families."
With no recorded deaths, Rwanda so far has recorded 183 coronavirus cases of which 88 recovered.