Social stigma haunts many carriers

Many people are seemingly showing very little interest in testing for possibly contracting coronavirus. Corona phobia denies such group of people from being concerned while another group of people completely conceal their suspicion of contracting the virus.

Health experts warn that such trends in corona phobia are contributing in transmission of the deadly virus and undermining the government efforts to contain the epidemic.

They also say that many doctors and health workers are being exposed to the deadly virus completely unaware when most of this group of people privately seek healthcare when they feel sick.

Experts believe that the government should focus on how best to overcome such phobia of social stigma as well as treating people infected with coronavirus with respect.

Former Chief Scientific Officer of the Institute of Disease Control and Research, Mostaq Hossain said, “Victims are fleeing for fear of harassment. In fact, many are leaving the city in fear of infection. Several people who tested positive are facing discrimination while some are also reported to have been attacked by their friends and relatives. There are reports of patients being rejected treatment just because they happen to be corona positive.”

At a recent briefing on coronavirus, Health Minister Zahid Malek said that many people showing the symptoms of Covid-19 were hiding information and showing little interest in testing it. “This is a huge problem,” the minister commented.

He said, “That is why many of our doctors and health workers are being exposed to the virus without knowing the condition of their (patients’) infection. This tendency to hide symptoms is very worrying.”

“If there are symptoms, they should be examined. There are enough kits and many more are arriving. When the number of tests increases, coronavirus patients can be identified and its spread can be prevented,” he said.

Professor Kanak Kanti Barua, vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said, “There was a tendency among many to hide corona symptoms and medical history for fear of social stigma and isolation.”

He continued, “These people are causing harm to themselves as well as their families, neighbors and the community they live in. People should go to consult doctor and get tested if they have any symptoms of corona infection.”

The VC of BSMMU said that everyone should consider corona as a disease like other diseases without having any fear.
“If someone does not strictly follow the rules of health protection and social distance, they can get infected. But they shouldn't worry about it because 80 per cent of people can recover without being isolated and following the advice of doctors,” he said.

He also said many people believe that if they are tested positive they may be picked up and kept in the isolation center and their house will be locked down. Their family members will be treated negatively and they will be excluded.

“That is why they are not interested in the Covid-19 test. We need to solve this problem. Otherwise, our efforts to control the virus will fail. If these people do not disclose their symptoms and continue to be carriers of the virus, it may turn out to be highly risky as they may also continue to transmit the virus unintentionally,” he explained.

Khan Abul Kalam Azad, a professor at Dhaka Medical College, said “It is sad to learn that some doctors and nurses became infected when they had gone to treat patients because they hid their medical history and coronavirus symptoms.”

Citing an example, he said, “Four nurses had been infected with coronavirus when a patient was recently admitted to the pediatric ward of the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH). The child’s parents did not disclose about his corona symptoms earlier.”

Dr Khan Abul Kalam Azad Khan added that many patients coming from coronavirus hotspots like Narayanganj, Mirpur and Narsingdi are also giving false information about their address. "They say they come from other districts where the infection rate is still very low."

"People need to understand that if they continue to give wrong information, doctors will get confused and lose confidence in them," he said.

"Physicians need to know the right information and the history of treatment in order to treat patients properly."
He called on the media to change their tendency to hide and create awareness to encourage testing.

IEDCR director Professor Mirzadi Sebrina Flora said they have an observation that many are hiding their symptoms or health history. "Symptoms and complications should be expressed, overcoming their fears."

“The sooner we are able to identify infected people and differentiate them from others, the sooner we will be able to control the virus. So, if people hide their symptoms, we will not be able to identify them, which will make our efforts to deal with the virus more difficult,” she added.