By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Disasters naturally trigger sentiments of fear among the affected communities, groups and families. Worse still, humanitarian disasters that come in form of diseases instill more fear and mistrust among people as they suspect each other of being potential carriers capable of bringing the calamity to the family or community.
The advent of HIV and Aids turned lovers into enemies as women blamed their spouses for bringing the plague into their lives and vice-versa. Families turned against each other while marriages broke down because of the confusion brought about by HIV and Aids. Accusations of witchcraft became prevalent as neighbours and relatives attacked each other for allegedly causing the death of their loved ones. It took a long time before people could understand that it was the virus wedging a silent war on people and that the virus could be transmitted through other non-sexual means although the main source was through sexual intercourse.
Some couples cannot forgive each other for having infected them with the virus and they continue to tell the bitter story of the infidelity of their partner to generations to come. Trust has been broken and tolerance sacrificed. Some people actually died not because of sickness but because of lack of tolerance and love. They suffered a lot of stigma at the hands of family members, co-workers and fellow Christians at church who worsened their condition by failing to give them love. They already condemned them with a death sentence.
Stigma is denigration of someone because of his or her condition or social status. Stigma can worsen the condition of the suffering person. Like in the case of HIV and Aids, there is a lot of stigma associated with Covid-19. Originally, Covid-19 was blamed on China where the first case was recorded with a lot of theories associated with it. As the pandemic slithered into Africa and slowly but surely into our communities, it is proving to cause a lot of stir especially in religious houses, families and institutions with people accusing each other of bringing the disease.
There are theories that the prevalence of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe and the subsequent death of people was as a result of the opening of the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. The assumption is that those who came from South Africa and those with the privilege to fly across the globe are responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
A survey carried out in some of the religious houses and some families revealed some elements of stigma and stereotyping with members accusing fellow colleagues of bringing the virus into the community or home. A Catholic Sister in one of the convents in Zimbabwe told Catholic Church News that some of her colleagues were being victimized for bringing the virus into the community after returning from personal trips.
“The issue of stigma is rife in most communities with people accusing each other of being responsible for the sickness of community members. We have been really affected by this. Some people find it hard to accept those infected by the virus especially those who have been in isolation,” she said.
The Sister said there was need for counselling of family or community members for the positive integration of sick people or those who would have recovered from the virulent virus adding that some communities and families were uncomfortable to accept those who would have been in quarantine centres.
She added: “Positive integration helps in caring for the community members as care and love contributes to healing. If this is not taken care of relationships will be strained.”
She confided that community members were living in fear and suspicion of each other thereby causing disunity in convents.
Sr. Madelline Chapisa HLMC of the Carmelite Sisters said stigma was inevitable and may lead to serious conflicts if nothing is done to address it.
“Everyone is worried as to who brought the virus among us. That is a cause of great concern,” she said.
A woman in Harare said some families were at loggerheads as partners pin point each other for inviting the unwanted visitor in the house. She said some people are taking advantage to lock their partners indoors arguing that movements outside the house would attract Covid-19.
“This has led to a lot of domestic violence in families. People are suffocating out there as they are forced to stay indoors. Where someone in the family is sick the blame is laid on his movements or the one who is suspected to be the carrier. In the case of men, it is the woman and in the case of women it is the man,” she said.
She urged people to cultivate the spirit of love and care as Covid-19 is airborne and should not be blamed on anyone.
The Regional Superior of the Congregatio Jesu aka Maryward Sisters, Sr. Maria Gorretti Mudhovozi, CJ whose congregation had two positive cases of Covid -19 said it is important to offer psycho social support, to be non-judgmental and understanding to those infected.
Sr. Mudhovozi said: “I realised the condition goes up and down which may distress the patient, hence the need for continuous encouragement to both the community members who provide care and the sick. There is need for self-control by the community members so that they do not make the sick feel as if they are afraid of them while at the same time protecting themselves from contracting the disease.”
She said no-matter where the disease came from, people should exercise extra care for the sick and not call each other names.
“When one is infected, there is no need to blame him or her for bringing the virus no-matter how careless the person could have been. We must remember that no-one is immune from contracting coronavirus hence, treat others as you would want them to treat you. One might be sick today and tomorrow she might be taking care of you. Jesus is present in the sick and the presence of coronavirus challenges us to exercise our virtue of charity, compassion and patience within our communities,” Sr. Mudhovozi stated.
She, however, warned that engaging in risky behaviour exposes other members of the family and the community to the pandemic and she encouraged all people to take precautions that protect them and others from contracting Covid-19.
Sr. Mudhovozi said stigma causes a lot of trauma and urged communities to guard against this vice. She chastised landlords who fire their tenants from their premises because they have tested positive to Covid-19 and challenged society to respect the dignity of every person. She spoke against discriminating each other because of Covid-19 and encouraged all people to be compassionate in these trying times.