By HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)

Several Kenyans are suffering silently in their houses as Coronavirus continues to hit parts of the country.  The virus is here with us and no longer being imported or associated with people from abroad or history of travelling.

Coronavirus is now spreading communally among Kenyans that causing worries among citizens. The fear of Coronavirus is escalating to stigma and discrimination among citizens. People suspected of the disease are feared as sting more than the disease itself by residents.

For instance, residents of Nairobi County do not want to be associated with anybody whether family members, relatives or friends confirmed with the disease or suspected and quarantined. The infected individuals are treated in seclusion while nurses and doctors attending to them insulated as safety measures.

Residents of Kibera prefer over-counter treatment to health facilities

The scenario is scary to many citizens and would not want to be part of contacts tracing for confinements. As a results, many residents are not visiting hospitals rather buy medicine over the counters for self-treatment.

Self-administering of medicine is becoming rampant among residential patients as pharmacists and chemists make booming businesses. However, some patients take no medication at all while those who are on regular treatment but have drained prescription doses, ignores more drugs.

Again, fear comes from the way corpses of Covid-19 are handled which dehumanizes their dignity, family as well as relatives. The disease is new, has no cure yet, it is an aerosol infection and killing indiscriminatively.

In an interview with residents of Kibera in Nairobi County, many argue as much as government is imparting measures to protect its citizens, it has also installed fear and stigma to people.

Jessica Anyango is expectant mother, she is due on July but has abandoned her maternity clinic visits at Mbagathi County hospital. Her main fear is contracting Coronavirus, bearing in mind that the health facility is currently focal isolation and treatment centre for Covid-19 patients.

“I fear Coronavirus more than complications, I would experience during baby delivery time. I better stay at home safe than exposing myself to the obvious dangers,” Anyango states.

Stressed up pregnant woman

“I am in my third and last trimester so, I don’t think any complications would arise yet I have not experienced any problems to date,” she alluded.

“I watched on television how suspected Coronavirus corpses are hurriedly buried.  Little or no dignity accorded to them hence humiliating to the family members.” Anyango lamented. It would be better for me and family members to remain safe rather than exposing and importing the virus from Mbagathi hospital to infect children.” She said. 

Anyango claims burials is the last respect accorded to deceased in her culture so, everything    it demands lives families more lugubrious and communities stigmatized

Covid-19 has eroded many communities’ culture and traditions while introducing a stinging stigma to Kenyans. No more visiting of the sick at health facilities with gifts cards, flowers, for fear of the virus, no communal burials and feasting accorded to the departed love ones among new normal.

However, these are guidelines and conditions by World Health Organization to tame the spread of Coronavirus. Various governments and Health Ministries are just implementing.

Women holding placards that says it all

The other complains that propels stigmatization is associated with patients visiting Mbagathi hospital or any other health facility.  Regardless of medical attention a patient seeks at Mbagathi hospital, neighbors develop cold feet and discriminate against such people.

“The last time I visited Mbagathi hospital was on April 8, for my normal pre-natal healthcare services. I remember it was the first week of phase one of lockdowns and movement restrictions for Nairobi and Mombasa Counties,” Anyango recalls.

“After my pre-natal healthcare services, I found myself discriminated upon by fellow tenants. They argued that I stood high chances of contracting the virus to infect them,” she explains.

“I felt disappointed, angered and very lonely. I could not travel to upcountry as Nairobi is in lockdown. To regain their confidence, I had to terminate my pre-natal healthcare routine checkups. So we are friends again as I wait to deliver in early July,” Anyango says.

Majority of residents of Kibera are low income earners thus depends on casual labour where they may save very little or nothing if at all they do. These residents work in neighboring estates such Langata, Karen, Kileleshwa, Nairobi West, South B and South C.

Pregnant women stressed up in most estates in Nairobi

Unfortunately, the bosses had to terminate these labour services for fear of contracting virus. Again the government insisted that people should work from home and only go out if necessary. The type of labor services these residents offer require going out which include household chores, gardening and caring for children among others.

So, none of the residents want to be associated with Coronavirus to lose their daily earnings. Many even hide in case of any minor ailment such as headache, flu or fever without seeking any medication.

At this rate, two people have died in their houses for refusing to go to hospital. One of the late had chronic disease and she ran out of stock yet requires ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.

The other died in the upcountry as escaping from Kibera where stigmatization is escalated to seek for treatment in a better environment. Unfortunately, the person succumbed as it was too late to respond to medication upon arrival in Bomet County.

According to World Health Organization (WHO),stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread.

“In short, if people are trying to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, they are less likely to get tested or treated,” the WHO says.

It’s not a “plague” or an “apocalypse”; it’s not a “Chinese” or “Asian” disease; and people with COVID-19 should not be described as “spreading the virus”.

The WHO urges the media to ensure their Coronavirus coverage does not stoke panic or stigmatize parts of society.

 “If the media can help educate people, Covid-19 will be better understood, and less scary,” the WHO says. And if the media are more careful with language, they can help reduce the stigmatization of people who catch the virus.” WHO reiterated.

The WHO stated it’s not a “plague” or an “apocalypse”; it’s not a “Chinese” or “Asian” disease; and people with Covid-19 should not be described as “spreading the virus”.

“Human beings naturally are often afraid of the unknown; and it is easy to associate that fear with ‘others’,” the WHO says in its guidelines published after reports of racist abuse in some countries and the spread of false information online.