Rejig the strategy, please

Caution and preventive measures are fine. But, acting on suspicion is not.

We said it before also. Fear of the virus among the general population has its advantages in the implementation of the lockdown measures. Most people are voluntarily remaining indoors and are seen taking adequate precautions like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing when they come out. In many places, local clubs have taken over the responsibility of enforcing the lockdown restrictions in their respective localities. In some localities, even exit and entry are totally prohibited. Both police and local volunteers are out in the streets to discourage people coming from rural areas with loads of vegetables from vending their goods in make-shift Corona markets. Government efforts in involving civil society organisations and local clubs seems to be bearing fruit. This is indeed interesting.

But, one has to be aware of the negative side-effects of the fear in the public mind in terms of stigma and harassment for lack of proper awareness among the general public. The latest victims are the frontline workers of COVID-19, especially doctors and other health care professionals, and of course, the policemen on duty, as COVID-19  positive cases increases among them.

The latest wake-up call comes from Dr Kh Palin of Shija Hospitals. He has informed that at least 15 staff members of the hospital including nurses have quit their jobs, unable to bear the discrimination they face in their own localities. Doctors and nurses are even asked not to return home by the locals. If this is the kind of treatment they face in the society at large, a major health care crisis is waiting in the wings, which is quite unthinkable. At this rate, we wonder if the recruitment drive of doctors and nurses to man the Covid Care Centres would be successful or not. Well, the date for the walk-in-interview has been extended at least once. There could have been even peer pressure or family pressure to the candidates not to apply. This would indeed be disastrous for the state. If only a few turned up for the interviews, who will man the Covid Care Centres.

Caution and preventive measures are fine. But, acting on suspicion is not. Everyone knows that social discrimination or stigmatisation usually follows such pervasive fear among the general public. One recalls the early days of HIV and AIDS, when people even refused HIV positive people from taking bath in the local ponds. But for the lack of knowledge and awareness of how HIV is transmitted, the HIV positive people became social outcastes, and some even committed suicide. However, it slowly dissipated following a massive awareness campaign launched by MACS. The same kind of stigma and discrimination is now happening in the case of Covid 19 pandemic. Even a mere suspicion of coming into possible contact with COVID-19 positive persons make many families social outcasts in their own localities. So, the need of the hour is to create awareness among the general population in the scale undertaken by MACS. Routine press releases, radio talks or jingles and advertisements are not going to work. And, we could certainly use the services of MACS in the effort. Without education, information and awareness we cannot win this war against the pandemic.

First Published:Aug. 15, 2020, 12:03 p.m.