The stigma around COVID-19

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The virus has created such a fear psychosis that there are cases of people abandoning their family members who test positive for fear of contracting the disease. To make matters worse, hospitals as well as ambulances are fleecing patients, charging exorbitant sums and insisting on payment being made up front.

It is shocking to read about family members turning their back on a relative who tests positive. In one such case, an elderly woman was not allowed to enter her son’s house and sat outside until the police intervened and spoke to the son and persuaded him to take his mother home. In Tamil Nadu, a 103-year-old Covid survivor was asked to vacate her rented home by her neighbours who have ostracised her. These instances of callous behaviour need to be addressed by the government and civic bodies by creating awareness and explaining how to take care of the sick.

People are afraid of going to a hospital for fear of contracting the disease and amid newspaper reports of these institutions levying charges most cannot afford. Getting an ambulance is difficult and if you do get hold of one, the cost is ridiculous. Everyone seems to be making hay while the sun shines, milking the situation and fully aware that people will pay up when it is a loved one in need of urgent treatment.

Many have taken to social media giving examples of patients and even bodies being detained by hospitals over non-payment of inflated bills. When government officials are asked what action will be taken against these hospitals, they often say that people should seek treatment in government hospitals instead of opting for corporate hospitals. The problem is that we know the pathetic condition of such care centres and no one wishes to admit a family member at a facility where cleanliness and the quality of care are suspect.

Not everyone has medical insurance and even if you do, there is no guarantee that the hospital and insurance company will settle the bill amicably. As I read these heart-rending stories of complete apathy and opportunism, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness and despair over the lack of human values and empathy. There are countless incidents of family members running from pillar to post just to get the patient admitted only to be told there are no beds available. There was one chilling image of a man outside a hospital with his sick mother lying on the ground while he frantically knocked on the closed door. It was late at night and I can only imagine how desperate and scared he must have been.

Even as the government proudly cites a recovery rate which is better than that of some of the most advanced countries, one cannot but feel that a more transparent representation of the number of deaths and positive cases by each state would go a long way towards assuaging people’s concerns.

Then there are cases of people committing suicide when they come to know they have tested positive for the disease. The fear and uncertainty over what the future holds compels them to take this extreme step.

Television coverage and relentless follow up by reporters have resulted in more accurate figures being provided by public authorities. This proves that the press can help the public get some answers in a time of uncertainty. The common man is told not to believe rumours but in the absence of credible facts, people are going to believe what they hear from unverified sources. This is a time when conspiracy theories abound and it is up to the government to issue regular and reliable bulletins on the current situation and the measures being taken to contain the spread.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India

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