Stigma and Kenya Covid-19: Factors hindering management of the virus

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Stigma and Kenya Covid-19: Factors hindering management of the virus

Stigma and Kenya Covid-19: Factors hindering management of the virusFree mass testing for the novel coronavirus has been going on in various parts of the
country with much focus on the counties with the highest numbers of positive cases. The
exercise is being done with the hope of detecting positive cases for action. In this light,
The Kenya Medical Research Institute came up with an innovation in April that made it
possible to have the free mass testing which can now process and generate the test results
within 24 hours.

This is very interesting given that there are reports in the United States
of false positives and false negatives in the test, making it hard to know how Kenya is
identifying this phenomenon. The issue in Kenya is that of stigma associated with
positive results and the problem of contact tracing.

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Kenya now reports over 6000 positive COVID 19 cases and over 2000 recoveries.
However, the stigma has greatly interfered with the manner in which the government is
tackling this global pandemic in a nation where many of its occupants think the disease is
a myth. This week six anonymous Kenyan legislators tested positive for coronavirus.
This comes after a number of them were spotted holding various meetings and large
gatherings in total disregard of the safety measures put in place by the ministry of health.

Social stigma is one of the factors hindering the management and containment of
coronavirus because one is not able to easily identify who has the virus. Some carriers of
the virus are asymptomatic making it even more difficult to spot a potential threat. In
other countries, COVID 19 survivors and recovering patients including well known
public figures and leaders such as Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson among others,
are freely speaking about it and sharing online videos about their experiences.In Kenya,the situation is different. People are afraid to share the identities of those who have tested
positive with the notion that they will be scorned, rejected, or even ridiculed for getting
infected and possibly spreading the virus. Those who agree to share their accounts even
on national television do so anonymously. For most Kenyans, their greatest fear is to be
subjected to mandatory quarantine in the specified public health facilities that have been
provided by the government. So bad was the stigma at the beginning of the lockdown
period that one person was reported to have committed suicide at a quarantine facility in
Nakuru county.

Contact tracing has now become slightly possible digitally with Google getting on board
with that by having trackers that can be found on Android and Apple mobile phones. This
method is however not so efficient as it requires one to be online and have their Bluetooth
activated at all times pausing several security risks. As much as one would like to be
updated in terms of their COVID19 exposure, security risk concerns are also rife and
paramount in this day and age.

According to the World Health Organization, social stigma leads to a reduction in people
seeking medical care or testing. It gets worse when infected people fail to adhere to
interventions such as self-isolation. All these issues make responding to the outbreak
more difficult. African culture is playing an important role in dealing with Covid19.
Historical taboos, religious, social and economic status plays negatively to any scientific undertakings.

It does not help that the World Health Organization is on record
contradicting its own message. Because Africans are not scientific, they rely on their
instincts to deal with human life and development. Therefore, when the scientific
community contradicts itself, it makes it even harder for Africans to trust the messenger.

Jasmine Wambui
HTBluff Associates
For Diaspora messenger

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