Stigma hinders Africa's COVID-19 response

Updated: 03 August, 2020 09:36 IST | Agencies | Kampala

In Somalia, COVID-19 patients are running away from their homes in the fear of being stigmatised by the community

A cartoonist, Jimmy Ssentongo, said his cartoon shows how several people in Uganda felt after a quarantine stay so long that some people bribed their way out and others went on a hunger strike. Pic/AP
A cartoonist, Jimmy Ssentongo, said his cartoon shows how several people in Uganda felt after a quarantine stay so long that some people bribed their way out and others went on a hunger strike. Pic/AP

After 23 days in quarantine — far longer than required — Jimmy Spire Ssentongo in Uganda walked free, in part, because of his cartoon. It showed a bound prisoner begging for liberation after several negative tests, while a health minister demanded to know where he was hiding the virus.

"The impression was that we were a dangerous group and that what was necessary was to protect the rest of society from us," said Ssentongo, a cartoonist for Uganda's Observer newspaper who was put in quarantine when he returned from Britain in March.

The fear he describes is indicative of the dangerous stigma that has sprung up around the virus in Africa — fuelled, in part, by severe and sometimes arbitrary quarantine rules and insufficient information about the virus. In neighbouring Kenya, at one facility, those inside said their money was rejected by the staff and the surrounding community when they tried to buy food, according to a Human Rights Watch report in May. In Somalia, COVID-19 patients are running away from their homes in the fear of being stigmatised by the community. Some humanitarian groups warn that stigma could set back Africa's pandemic response.

S Africa cases pass 5 lakh

South Africa exceeded half a million confirmed COVID-19 cases. South Africa's caseload represents over 50 per cent of all reported infections in Africa's 54 countries. With 10,107 new cases on Saturday, the country's total reached 5,03,290, including 8,153 deaths. Local hospitals have been struggling to cope, and health experts say the country could reach the peak of its outbreak in late August or early September.

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First Published: 03 August, 2020 08:45 IST

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