Monday, September 27
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Fighting the COVID-19 stigma

1 Jul 2020 By SHADDAD AL MUSALMY

There is a general consensus that testing and contact tracing are vital to containing the COVID-19 pandemic but many are reluctant to come forward to get tested – let alone revealing the personal information of friends, family and close associates. 

The situation in Oman, however, is different, as most people are open and easily reveal information as and when they test positive. Fighting this stigma has been a commitment of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Oman seems to be on the right track. 

“WHO is committed to supporting all countries to save lives. And we are also committed to human rights and to fighting stigma and discrimination wherever we see it,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, has said.

“There are disturbing reports in many countries, in all regions, about discrimination related to COVID-19. Stigma and discrimination are never acceptable anywhere, at anytime, and must be fought in all countries. As I have said many times, this is a time for solidarity, not stigma,” he added.

In Oman, however, things are different, as many people have accepted the situation as it comes, according to COVID-19 patients.

“I am a victim of COVID-19. I do not know how I contracted it, but the most important thing is that I have told all my family and friends about my condition. Not to scare them but to inform them to be safe. I have received good support from all. It is always great to be transparent to avoid the spread,” a patient, who wished to only be identified as Um, said.

When COVID-19 started in December, many countries saw contracting the virus as a matter of shame. When the outbreak is caused by a new virus, rumours and misinformation run rampant. Stereotypes quickly arise about people who have or may have the disease. In many western countries, for example, people of Asian descent were initially treated with suspicion and blamed for, even though they’re no more likely to spread the virus than the general population.

.“It is nothing to be ashamed of. This virus can affect anyone and we all have to accept it like any other disease. I have not received any negative comments even after recovering. I am well received by all, despite knowing that I had the virus,” A K, who is now fully cured of the disease, said.

In Oman, there is more awareness now than ever and people respect and treat each other well. In fact, almost everyone treats the virus as though it is there among everyone, which is evident from the way the traditions of greetings and mingling have changed.

“The way many in Oman take things now is never like before. Whether people know if you are infected or not, they have surely changed the traditions. We try to keep safe distance from each other and no more shake hands, which was hard in the beginning but is now part of reality. When I go to visit my parents’ in Sharqiyah, I never shake hands even with my parents now, and they take it normally. Better to be safe, than sorry,” said Ahmed Suedan, a government employee, who is based in Muscat but goes to Sinaw almost every weekend.

H E Dr Ahmed al Sa’eedi, Minister of Health, has been calling for all to shoulder the responsibility, saying, “I consider every one in Oman is responsible. We appreciate every person who helped us. The virus is still here and we have to learn to live with it.”

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