Many people are not getting Covid-19 tests due to fear of stigmaPublic health experts say the government needs to engage its agencies to dispel the shame around the disease which could happen to anyone.
Global health experts and the scientific community have been strongly endorsing tests and contact tracing as vital tools to containing the coronavirus pandemic. But for many people in Nepal, it seems, coming forward for tests is far scarier than actually catching the virus that causes Covid-19. This is due to the fear of social stigma and harassment that infected individuals and their relatives face in our society, public health experts say.
On August 15, Madhyapur Thimi Municipality in Bhaktapur was sealed off for 10 days after nine people in the area tested positive for coronavirus infection.
Rajkumar, who wished to be identified only by his first name, says he does not want to get tested even though he had come in contact with one of the infected persons.
“One of the persons who got infected was my neighbour, but I do not want to go for a test. If I tested positive, my whole family would be kept in quarantine. Moreover, my family will be boycotted by the community,” Rajkumar shared his fear with the Post.
Rajkumar says he has seen people avoiding the family of infected people in his neighbourhood and he does not want to bring upon the same situation to his family.
“This society will shun the people even if they got tested and their results came back negative,” said Rajkumar, who so far has no symptoms associated with Covid-19.
Like Rajkumar many people have been avoiding tests for fear of being ostracised.
Sunil Prajapati, the mayor of Bhaktapur Metropolitan City, says test and contact tracing have become difficult as a result of the stigma that has been attached to Covid-19.
He recalled a recent incident where an infected individual in the city had tried to hide his condition fearing that his landlord would not allow him into the house he’d been living in.
“The person had come from outside the Valley and he was tested in Thankot. After his test result came positive, we have placed him in quarantine in Kharipati. He does not want his landlord and his neighbours to know about his condition because he fears that he would be ostracised even after he has recovered,” Prajapati told the Post.
Public health experts working in the frontline say fear of social stigma and ostracism faced by patients and their families have become a major deterrent to the fight against Covid-19.
“The primary contacts of infected individuals just do not want to get tested,” said Dr Anup Bastola, the spokesperson for Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, Kathmandu. “We also get many calls from patients about the humiliation they suffered even after recovering,” said Bastola.
Dr Basudev Karki, psychiatrist at Mental Hospital in Patan, says social media has also led to the environment of fear and stigma.
“Instead of taking precautions, people are pouring their hatred on infected persons and their families. They don’t seem to understand that coronavirus can infect any of us,” Karki told the Post. “It is the job of the government and other concerned agencies to educate the people. The government needs to engage social groups and NGOs to address the problem of social stigma."