Fadima, 33, was one of the first people to contract COVID-19 in her community in Guinea. Since her release from the treatment centre, the young woman and mother of three children has felt excluded by her neighbours, who are shunning not only her but also her family.
“I was declared positive for coronavirus on 30 March 2020 and went to the centre for treatment. It was from my sick bed that I began to experience exclusion and stigmatisation from my close neighbours. First people started ignoring my children and at times, even my friends in the neighbourhood.” Fadima explains.
When an infectious disease outbreak becomes a pandemic - as with COVID-19 - people are understandably frightened and concerned. When the outbreak is caused by a new virus, rumours and misinformation run rampant.
“The act that affected me the most, was when a neighbour of mine with whom I was very friendly and to whom I was doing a great service, decided to leave the yard where I was because she had learnt of my positivity to the disease. When I heard the news, my blood pressure went up,” says Fadima.
“And worse the next day, our wholesaler called me and asked me to come and get my luggage out of his house. It wasn't the coronavirus that was going to kill me, but rather the social weight, the way other people looked at my family. I think the stigma is more dangerous than the virus itself.”
Stigma affects not only the survivors themselves, but also their relatives and children,
Research from past epidemics has shown that stigma undermines efforts to test for and treat diseases. People who are worried about being shunned or worse may be less likely to get tested or seek medical care, which increases infection risks for them and for others.
For many survivors of the coronavirus in Guinea, once they leave the treatment centres, they are finding that they are being excluded or shunned in social situations. Some are being denied job opportunities and are targets of verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
To address the rising discrimination against people who have contracted COVID-19 and have been discharged from hospital, Plan International in partnership with the Ministry of Social Action, is supporting families affected by the disease with moral, psychological and material assistance, visiting them in their homes to council them and listen to their concerns.
“I am very happy to see Plan International and the Ministry of Social Action support my family. It is an act that I will not forget for the rest of my life. I felt really abandoned and even rejected, but we hope that this will make a difference. The fact that you visited my family has touched me enormously. People need to understand that those of us who have been cured of this disease are not a danger," Fadima says.
As well as providing comfort to affected families, we are also raising awareness in the community to teach people the correct facts about the disease to prevent the sharing of inaccurate information which can lead to a dangerous culture of blame and shame.
“From now on, we are going to redirect our strategy towards awareness as people must have information about the disease. We believe that if the population is not informed, there will always be exclusion and suspicions of those who have had the disease.
The public must be encouraged to respect the barriers and to understand that people who are cured of the virus can no longer transmit the disease. With our partner, Plan International, these are the actions that we will carry out in the coming weeks,” says Moussa Traore, National Director of Social Affairs.