Health related social stigma is when
people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately,
and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease or
Such treatment by society can negatively affect those with the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends and local communities. People who don’t have the disease but share other characteristics with this group may also suffer from stigma.
The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours in many countries and in many ways: against people of certain ethnic or national backgrounds; against people living in or being from certain cities, provinces, or countries; and against anyone believed to have been infected with the virus.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT?
Stigma can be deadly. It can contribute to a situation where the virus is more – not less – likely to spread. This can result in even more severe health and societal problems and difficulties controlling a disease outbreak, both here in China and overseas.
We have seen the negative impact of stigma on our health time and time again, for example, in cases of stigma against people living with HIV, TB, or hepatitis, and against people with mental health disorders, just to name a few.
Stigma leads to worse health outcomes because it drives people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination; it prevents people from seeking health care immediately; supporting the emergency response in their communities; and it discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours.
If we don’t combat COVID-19 stigma it can become deeply entrenched in society and result in entire groups, in particular vulnerable communities, being disadvantaged and excluded.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
How we communicate and report about COVID-19 is critical in supporting people to take effective action to help combat the disease and to avoid fueling fear and stigma. An environment needs to be created in which the disease and its impact can be discussed and addressed openly, honestly, supportively and effectively.
“We must come together, both as a global community and as local communities, to prevent and stop ALL forms of COVID-19 stigma and discrimination – against people from China or any at-risk countries; against people from Wuhan or Hubei; and against people who have contracted COVID-19.”
-Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator in China & Dr Gauden Galea, WHO Representative to the People’s Republic of China
We all need to work together to show empathy with those affected, to understand the disease itself, and to adopt effective, practical measures so everyone- regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender or location, can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe.