From the outset of the pandemic there has been stigmatisation of those who contract Covid-19, even though the virus does not discriminate – it’s an equal opportunity offender.
In Cameroon, the second person to test positive for Covid-19 was expelled by his landlord.
I remember seeing a sketch on social media about a young lady living in the West who decided to surprise her family in Africa and spend the holiday with them. However, upon arrival her family told her to return the West because they didn’t want to risk becoming infected with Covid-19. The dramatized sketch was comical, but the reality for those who experience stigma is not funny.
The consequences of the stigmatisation have been real: xenophobia, rejection, isolation and mental distress. Even careers have been compromised. A 20-year-old Senegalese nurse who came into contact with a Covid-19 patient was confined to her room and ostracised from her neighbourhood. Messages circulated on social media with her full name and address. Word began to spread that she had contracted the virus by having sexual encounters with white people – this despite the fact that she put her life on the line caring for ill patients.
The media – and social media in particular – have helped to spread misinformation, in the process exacerbating the situation. Add confusion, anxiety and fear to the mix and the result is fuel for harmful stereotypes and racism.
As the pandemic moves into the endemic stage, the stigma, while nuanced, continues to exist, threatening our shared values. The best way to date to put an end to this ongoing health crisis and preserve societal cohesion remains the vaccine.
This article is part of a series on Covid-19 in Africa brought to you by Africa CDC in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation under the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative. To learn more, visit The saving lives and livelihoods page