Fear of stigmatisation has hindered contact tracing in KathmanduContact tracing officers in Kathmandu come across at least a dozen cases of deliberate misidentification by coronavirus infected people daily.
Uma Basnet, a health officer at Kathmandu Metropolitan City Ward-15, made numerous attempts to reach Imran (name changed), 23, on his mobile phone to inform him that he had tested positive for coronavirus infection.
Imran had given his swab samples for a test a week ago. After his result came positive, Basnet had been trying to get hold of Imran since Friday, but without avail.
When Imran finally answered the phone on Sunday, he at first tried to misidentify himself as Salman Ali. It was only after Basnet warned to report him to the police did Imran agree to cooperate.
“He said that he had reached Sarlahi last week and that he was observing isolation,” Basnet said.
The Post could not ascertain whether Imran was telling the truth about his whereabouts and whether he was isolating from others after contracting the coronavirus infection.
For Basnet people giving false personal details, not picking up their phones and claiming that she had reached a wrong number when they do answer their phones are nothing new in her contact tracing work.
She says people just do not want to associate themselves with the coronavirus.
“They feel stigmatised and try to hide their condition,” Basnet told the Post, recalling another incident where a 45-year-old woman from Dallu beseeched for absolute anonymity after learning that she had contracted the virus.
“She pleaded with me to keep her condition a secret from her neighbours and office colleagues,” said Basnet.
The woman is said to be observing self-isolation at her home. She has also requested the ward office to conduct tests on her two sons.
People giving fake personal details and lying to the contact tracing officers have hindered the Covid-19 containment measures in Kathmandu, officials say.
According to Gyan Bahadur Oli, the Covid-19 focal person at the public health division of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, contact tracing officers come across at least a dozen cases of deliberate misidentification daily.
“This is going on in all 32 wards of Kathmandu and we get regular complaints from health workers about the problem they are facing in the contact tracing work,” Oli told the Post.
While the identity of the infected persons are not revealed to the public, there seems to be a widespread fear among them of their names being disclosed.
Officials say this tendency is mainly due to the incidents of mistreatment and abuse faced by Covid-19 patients as well as health workers in communities.
“Infected people are forced to hide their condition out of fear of being ostracised and abused. This is a serious issue,” said Mukunda Rijal, the ward chairman of Kathmandu-16. “In Ward-16 alone, more than 12 percent of the people who got tested for Covid-19 had given false personal details. How can we locate the infected person and their close contacts if we do not have their details?”
Anthropologists say insecurity and social fear concerning Covid-19 should be dispelled through awareness campaigns.
“Infected persons fear what others might say or do. The government and other stakeholders must inform and educate the people about this disease, or else the social stigmatisation of Covid-19 patients is not going to end,” Suresh Dhakal, an anthropologist, told the Post.
Shaligram Bhattarai, a clinical psychologist and the coordinator at Centre for Mental Health and Counselling Nepal, also agrees that the onus lies on the government when it comes to informing the public about the coronavirus, how it spreads and what to do if a person thinks he or she is infected.
“Many people seem to be misinformed about Covid-19. If someone is infected, they see it as that person’s fault. There is a clear lack of accurate information in the public about the disease,” he said.