Nigeria: Heroes Campaign Launch - Survivors Demystify Covid-19 Virus and Fight Stigmatization

Abuja — "When I tested positive for COVID-19, so many thoughts came into my mind, says Usman Sadiq, FCT-based COVID-19 survivor. Firstly, I thought life has ended for me. Secondly, I thought I had brought shame upon my family. I started planning how to escape from the isolation centre. My greatest worry was not the test result or even my health but how people will look at me, relate with me or even share things with me.

"Then I thought of taking my life after all, it is my life. But after my first night at the isolation centre, I felt much better. I saw people being discharged and how healthy and jubilant they were.. So, I said to myself "COVID-19 is not a death sentence, after all. If all these people can survive, I can also. And that was the beginning of my mustard seed of faith. Thereafter, I began to recover even quicker until I was discharged, and I have since re-united with my family.

But to my greatest surprise, WHO, government and partners even recognized me and invited me to this heroes' campaign to celebrate my survival. In fact, I cannot be more honoured".

In almost 50% of the States across Nigeria including the north-east Borno, Adamawa and Yobe where conflict has disrupted social and economic lives for over a decade, WHO is supporting the government to identify with and celebrate survivors of COVID-19 in a campaign tagged Heroes' Campaign. The objective of the campaign is to de-stigmatize COVID-19 survivors, increase risk perception and drive home the realities of the outbreak.

Flagging off the event in Abuja, Dr. Mathew Ashikeni the FCT Coordinator of the Emergency Operations Centre as well as Director, Special Duties FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS) appealed for compliance to COVID-19 preventive measures including wearing of facemasks, regular hand washing and physical distancing. He emphasized that individuals can avoid COVID-19 infection by following these practical measures and that as a result community level transmission will drastically reduce.

On her part, WHO Coordinator for FCT, Dr Furera Zakari emphasised that COVID-19 is not a sickness for the rich people or older people. "COVID-19 can affect anybody irrespective of age, tribe, religion, status or race. There is no need to be ashamed and there is no need to be afraid of COVID-19, so there is no reason for stigmatization or discrimination," Dr Zakari said.

She added that COVID-19 is not a death sentence as majority who were infected survived it. She reiterated that in Nigeria, only 1.2% of those infected with COVID-19 die from it. She however urged survivors to continue observing physical distancing, regular hand washing and use of face marks especially in crowded places.

As of 07 February 2021, FCT had reported 17, 824 cases including 128 deaths and 6350 active cases. WHO continues to provide technical support to the country including capacity building, clinical management of cases in the treatment centres and at home, risk communication and community engagement, contact tracing, active surveillance in communities and sensitization and referral of suspected COVID-19 cases.

At the launch of the Hero's Campaign, 23 COVID-19 survivors endorsed the strategy to be COVID-19 ambassadors for creating awareness and pledged to use their experiences and further educate the public about COVID-19 preventive measures through media appearances and community engagement activities. They equally pledged to enlighten people on stigmatization and discrimination as COVID-19 can infect anybody. Other dignitaries at the FCT launch includeed government functionaries, representatives of NCDC and African CDC as well as other partners supporting COVID-19 response in Nigeria.

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