COVID-19: Stigma, flames of hysteria & fear factor will further compound the devastation of the virus

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The virulence of viruses and its rippling effects have been written and published by scholars and academics since the discovery of microorganisms and coronavirus is no exception. However, the stigma, flames of hysteria and fear associated with the COVID-19 is the pivot of impact of the disease.

On the 11th of March 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a Pandemic having recorded over 126, 000 morbidity and 4631 mortality globally. Thus, the COVID-19 virus is fast spreading than initially estimated. The rate of spread of the disease is likely to triple in countries where stigma, flames of hysteria and fear is common.

For instance, speaking at Munich Security Conference in Germany, WHO Director-General DrTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had this to say “The greatest enemy we face is not the virus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other. We must stop stigma and hate!”

Furthermore, there exist plethora of literature on stigma and it effects both globally and locally. For example, Tawiah, Adongo, and Aikins’s work on stigma among mental health patients and their families revealed a great deal of stigmatisation and discrimination from the individual, family, work, employment, education to the health level in the Ghanaian society.

Also, according to Peter O Preko and co, HIV/AIDS-related stigma in Ghana can range from a simple gossip to outright discrimination, resulting in job loss, house evictions, rejection, isolation and even killing of an HIV infected person. This forms of stigmatization have effects on self-reporting and contact tracing of individuals with communicable or contagious disease like coronavirus. Thus, impeding the health professionals ability to contain the disease.

Aside stigma; is the proliferation of social, print and electronic media. The media forms the centre for flames of hysteria. These flames of hysteria are the order of the day as every citizen wants to be the first to broadcast or relay information without fact-checking it veracity. Social media dominates almost every aspect of people’s lives in the 21st century.

People communicate with friends through it, share their actions throughout the day, and use it as a source of entertainment. This can be a good thing because it gets people news almost instantaneously and makes it easily accessible. What makes trusting these news reports difficult is that the source is not always reliable.

Anyone can say whatever they want on social media, and if people choose to believe them it can be spread across the internet. In Ghana, before the over 50 suspected cases of coronavirus could be tested, the social media was washed with the news that, Ghana has recorded it first case. When at the time, there was no such confirmation. This is disturbing as it causes fear and panic in the country. That is why in the wisdom of the WHO Director-General he stated that “we are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic.

Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus. That’s why we’re also working with search and media companies like Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Tencent, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and others to counter the spread of rumours and misinformation. We call on all governments, companies and news organizations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm, without fanning the flames of hysteria.” We must all avoid fake news to help scientists communicate evidenced-based preventive and management strategies as well as the real statistics of the incidence of the disease to the citizenry”.

In conclusion, to help contain the coronavirus, citizens must avoid fear and panic. In the face of this pandemic, fear and panic is not an option. Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm. Fear can kill even before the organism does. Extreme fear and panic following the diagnosis of an individual with coronavirus can activate the full sympathetic nervous system response that we see in a panic attack.

The body can go into a state of tonic immobility, or quiescence. When an animal is seized by an attacker, the caudal ventrolateral region of the periaqueductal gray generates a response that from the outside looks like total collapse.

In the teeth of a full-blown sympathetic response, the parasympathetic system now swings into overdrive. The body, insensitive to pain, goes completely limp, often falling to the ground as awkwardly as a rag doll, limbs splayed, neck thrown back. Eyes closed, it trembles, defecates, and lies still. It looks, in a word, dead.

This is why fear generation and the spread of fear concerning coronavirus must be avoided especially during this period. Now that the Minister of Health has confirmed the diagnosis of two cases in Ghana, Ghanaians must be extremely careful in other not to exaggerate the incidence in the country.

Exaggerations will case fear and pic with it rippling effects being the closure of shops, malls, food joints schools, public gatherings like funerals and weddings etc. Thus, the consequences would be dye. To help prevent and or contain the disease, the government has announced a one million dollar for the preparation and management of coronavirus in the country. This is reassurance as the ministry of health and its development partners have also put forwards preventive measures for COVID-19.

Some of this preventive measures includes; regularly had washing with soap under running water or if possible use hand sanitizers regularly, cover mouth with handkerchief or tissue when coughing or sneezing, self-quarantine for 14 days if you have recently arrived from any of the countries that have reported case of COVID-19, call 0552222004 if one just return from the affected countries with symptoms such as; fever, cough and difficulty in breathing.

Citizens are entreated to avoid non-essential visit to affected countries. When these preventive measures outlined are followed, it would help reduce the stigma, flames of hysteria and fear and panic thereby minimizing the impact of the disease.

By Gbande sulleh
Assistant lecturer, University Of Health and Allied Sciences
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Ho-Ghana
and
Emmanuel B. A. Prempeh
Assistant Registrar
University Of Health and Allied Sciences
Ho-Ghana

Columnist: Gbande Sulleh & Emmanuel B. A. Prempeh

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