Diary Pages: Dealing with the virus – Support and Stigma

Viruses can cause fear, and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS have in the past had a stigma attached to them.  To understand how COVID-19 is being received in Cape Town we asked our respondents how people have responded to those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  As we report in other diary pages the majority of respondents have not been directly affected by the virus, nor have they had close friends or family affected.  Those who are affected report that most people they know with COVID-19 are supported; however, there is the stigma attached to the virus, and it is of real concern.

 Support for those who have COVID-19

Thembisile from Imizamo Yethu had a friend who ‘was affected by covid-19 virusLucky people who around him supported him until he defeated the Covid-19′. Ayanda from Khayelitsha had a mother of a friend who was affected by COVID-19: ‘She was hospitalized for a short period of time then she came back, she had since recovered as she is negative now. I am not sure if people knew but those who did were very helpful in terms of support and prayer’.

‘I only know, indirectly, of one person who has had the virus and she has recovered from it. She is a friend’s mother in-law who lives in Durban. As far as I know, there was massive concern and care for her, and not the negative stigmatisation that seems to sadly be growing all of a sudden’.  Judy, Newlands

Natalie in Newlands knows a few people who have been sick and after testing for COVID-19. However, they tend to think it was a false negative result as they had been exposed to friends with confirmed COVID-19. She notes, however, ‘Regardless if the diagnosis, friends and family members have supported sick people by helping to drop off groceries and checking they are ok with phone-calls and WhatsApps’.

‘I think the community has responded well when it comes to the virus with apparent cases in all the supermarkets e.g. Pick n Pay, Checkers and Spar…yes caution is taken by the supermarkets as well as the customers’. Lwando, Imizamo Yethu

Gift from Imizamo Yethu describes how a taxi driver he knows tested positive and ‘was taken away to be isolated’, but ‘people didn’t respond so bad against that, they were just shocked as we didn’t expected the virus in local’.

‘People responded to those who have been diagnosed correctly. Because they distance themselves to those who are diagnosed. And they support them by telling them that they must go to the clinics’. Zizipho, Ramaphosa

Avoidance

A number of diarists explained how those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 were avoided by those around them, or not able to go to work. They were not stigmatised but were seen as a health risk. A diarist in Khayelitsha explains how a ‘cousin sister  that am living with works @ a retail store & one of the employees was found positive & she had to stop going to work until tested which is unlikely to happen as we know you don’t get tested in our local clinics without symptoms‘.

Where Sim, from Delft, works ‘there was a department which had one person affected. The person took some days off till she was declared recovered by health department. On her return there were some worries over how the rest of the staff will treat her but till to-date I haven’t heard much‘. 

A diarist whose family member works with a colleague who tested positive felt that those around her were ‘all fearful of me‘. She explained that ‘One thing still scares me is taking a taxi ‘cause the driver not wearing mask and don’t consider social distancing.  Twice I got out of taxi and walked home.’

‘Yes my leader is affected by de COVID-19. They ignore him they don’t want to be next to him anymore [out of a fear of] being infected’. Diarist from an informal settlement

Stigma

Several diarists shared with us experiences of people they knew with COVID-19 being stigmatised or fearing stigmatisation. Khaya in Khayelitsha explains that ‘those who have shared their experiences of how they were treated by their communities once they found out they were diagnosed with the virus have stated that were treated like outsidersPeople feared them to the point where they were asked to leave the area and go live elsewhere. Many people in some communities haven’t been supportive to those who are diagnosed with virus but instead have added to the pain, suffering and stress of those are infected. People who diagnosed even after recovering are left in isolation.’

‘I only know one person…He immediately self- quarantined (even from his family), but didn’t tell many people. Partly because he’s a public figure but partly he feels it stigmatizes people’.  Diarist, Newlands

Thando who also lives in Khayelitsha confirms that ‘There is a lot of stigma, as community members feel that one should not come back to their community even after recovery’. Zukiswa from Khayelitsha explains that a grocery store employee (who does not live in Khayelitsha) ‘tested positive and when the ambulance came to her place it came with 3 police vehicles. The community members were so angry and she said [she] would not come back there’.

‘People in my community respond very strictly to those affected by the virus. People in my community treat the affected as outsiders. They don’t show the support to those affected. They see the affected as very dangerous. People in my community believe that the affected people cannot be cured again no matter what they hear in the daily news. Some people in my community have lots of range and anger against to those affected…so that’s how it so serious this situation out here’. Diarist from an informal settlement

One diarist from an informal settlement describes how a man in her area was sick with ‘flu’ but did not want to go to the clinic. His family compelled him to go to the clinic and he was sadly declared dead on arrival. Now ‘his neighbours are scared and they are worried about the family, the wife and the kids were taken away, and I heard rumours that the community don’t want them back no matter they recovered or not‘.

Gossip

Several diarists explained that those who were ill were stigmatised through gossip and innuendo.

‘One person is affected and has a family. People In my community also regards the whole family as dangerous and they start talking bad things about the family and lots of untrue conspiracies’. Nathi, Imizamo Yethu

Jazzy D from Woodstock explains how a family friend in Salt River area tested positive and was ‘treated differently by others.  It’s sad but yes that’s how it goes…the neighbour’s spoke nonsense about them.’

‘Yes, heard about two cases, and both of them are positive.  The one was from Bonteheuwel and believe me I didn’t like how the people react, it wasn’t nice, they were gossiping and the whole family didn’t leave the house because of the gossip’. Jack, Woodstock

Those with the virus must not be stigmatised

Many of our diarists were keen to note that those you are infected and their families must be supported as far as possible and must not be treated differently, especially once recovered.

‘Nobody knows who is next and this is a virus, it not just something people can do by themselves, they must think of them and their families too’. Mavis, Block Six

Thando explained that the fact that community members feel that one should not come back to their community even after recovery, is ’caused by the ignorance‘.  Zukiswa agrees that ‘community members doesn’t have enough information about covid 19’.  Jazzy D feels it is ‘sad‘ if those who are affected are treated differently…’We need to support and pray for each other‘. 

Questions

How can communities support those who test positive for COVID-19, while maintaining social distance?

Would more information on recovery and treatment of COVID-19 prevent possible stigmatisation of those with COVID-19?

What lessons can we draw from community work around other viruses to tackle the stigma surrounding Covid-19? 

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