LOWER GWERU – “Sometimes I don’t know what is worse, living in a state of panic or living with other people’s attitudes about it,” wrote Nicole Lyons in one of her protest prose against stigma.
The statement relates to George Sibanda’s situation as he is struggling to live with the fear whether he is Covid-19 positive or negative and at the same fighting stigmatisation from his community over his supposed condition.
Sibanda (44) is a truck driver who has survived through the trade for more than 10 years, a job that has managed to put food on the table for his family and thus kept him on the road amid announcement of national lockdowns.
The job he so loved however has reduced him and his family to community ridicule after fears that he could have contracted Covid-19 while on the tour of duty.
Health journals across the globe have since expressed concern on how fear of contracting Covid-19 has turned into stigma in communities.
Sibanda initially tested positive on Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) done in Zambia but has since tested negative on two successive RDTs conducted in Zimbabwe.
Speaking to CommuTalk from his Makepesi, Lower Gweru homestead where he is under self quarantine, Sibanda says he is now awaiting Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test results.
RDTs are immediate though not conclusive while PCR tests are more definitive though expensive to run.
Explaining his ordeal, Sibanda also says the community has since even avoided roads that pass through his home and those in possession of his utensils have also became victims of stigmatization.
“There is a shortcut path that passes through here which has since been neglected by many regardless of the fact that it was one of the busiest roads in this community.
“A neighbor who had borrowed a wheel barrow from here was also at one time denied access to water as people sent him away on accusations that he had brought infected utensils,” Sibanda said.
“Basically, when the community heard that there is a ‘Covid patient’ coming they didn’t accept it. What further saddened me was that some community leaders I thought would be educating people on how to live with people under quarantine actually exacerbated the stigma,” he added.
The truck driver however acknowledged Chief Chisadza’s (the local Chief) and Omega Sibanda’s (the local MP) efforts in fighting the stigma through educating people about his condition.
“We have since mobilized with health authorities to fight this stigma. After seeing him (George Sibanda) through visual assessment, he is very healthy,” said Omega Sibanda.
“We want to teach people about Covid-19. People are not yet aware of how to co-exist with suspected and confirmed Covid related cases and we are progressing well,” Chief Chisadza also said.
Besides stigma, Sibanda also says ridicule has come inform of social media attacks targeted not only on him but his family as well. The victim also rubbished reports that his son was assaulted over his condition.
“I have of late been receiving social media messages talking different staff about me and all are lies. Another voice note received spoke authoritatively about my condition but I was left amused knowing no one has ever asked about my condition let alone speak with authority on social media.
“There are further claims that my son was assaulted over my condition at the shopping centre. It’s all false. I have two siblings but none of them are here. I wonder where people who peddled all these lies got their information from,” he further said.
To fight stigma, the World Health Organisation recommends, “…reaching out to people who may feel stigmatised, listen to them and show that you understand and support them…Showing support for health care workers and other who are caring for people with Covid-19… Showing support and thanking all who continue their essential jobs to help you and your community.”
After getting support from political and traditional leadership, life is just a slide for Sibanda. Back and forth between loving and leaving, remembering and forgetting, holding on and letting go.