Recently the world has been awash with a Black Lives Matter campaign after the unfortunate murder of George Floyd by the United State of America Minneapolis Police members.
Protests broke out against police violence, but also against “the system” of justice which facilitated such a ‘pandemic of racism and discrimination.”
Discrimination is mostly when someone treats you in a negative way because of different distinctions such as race, class or a constituency of people. It is mostly associated with social stigmatization.
Social stigma is the disapproval of a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of the society.
What of Covid-19?
The Health Minister, Obadiah Moyo on Wednesday (3/5/2020) announced in Parliament that the government was planning to publicize the name of people who tested positive for Covid-19.
His reason was that Covid-19 is a contagious disease which is notifiable. He further noted that it was an issue that had already been discussed with the Cabinet and they found it necessary to name Covid-19 patients.
What does the law say? According to the Public Health Act Chapter 15:17 Section 39 (1) says: “All information concerning a user, including information relating to his or her health status, treatment or stay in a health establishment is confidential.”
The question that strikes the most is, do people need that kind of information to protect themselves? Having a name does not protect people.
Recently, a man was charged with violating the Public Health Act Chapter 15:17 Section 39 (1) after he disclosed the status of a Covid-19 patient without the permission of the patient named.
The only people who are going to feel the effects of having names in the public domain are those people who are suffering from Covid-19, those with their names publicized. What has changed?
The reason why it is necessary to have the minimal and necessary information only disclosed to the public is the great fear of social stigmatization.
There are many social wrong associated with publicizing the names of Covid-19 patients as evidenced by the discrimination against other people from certain backgrounds for instance, the Chinese.
This does not only affect those who are positive, but also the society, the friends and the family of those who would have been mentioned by the government as positive of Covid-19.
In a related case, a Zimbabwean man who gave an account to Reuters of how it hurts to live with the stigma said “Some people somehow think I still have residue of the virus. I heard one person referring to my road as corona road, and some people now avoid the road altogether. It hurts, but I have to be mature and accept it.
According to UNICEF, “ stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread.”
This can drive people to hide the illness, prevent people from seeking medical attention and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviors just to avoid the horrors of discrimination and stigma.
The government of Zimbabwe should seriously consider this move on a pros and cons scale. More efforts should be channeled towards improving the rate of testing and improving the quality of health service delivery.
The principles of right and wrong are what makes human beings humane.
Stigma will be served on a silver platter. Knee off our necks, we can’t breathe!