Virus stigma weighs heavily in sub-Saharan Africa

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by Camille Malplat with AFP bureaus

Landlords evict people from their homes, nurses are abandoned by their husbands and people are spurned just on suspicion of coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, the stigma attached to the coronavirus is so strong that some choose not to seek treatment to avoid facing unbearable hostility.

People suspected of having contracted COVID-19 say they are treated like pariahs: singled out at work, in their neighbourhoods and even in their homes.

Fatou, a Senegalese woman in her twenties who did not use her real name, described her bitter experience about a month ago after coming into contact with a sick person.

She was immediately confined to her room and ostracised by people in her community.

“Messages have been circulating on social media with my first name, surname and address,” she said, adding that rumours were spread that she “contracted the virus by sleeping with white people”.

Fatou, who was confined to her room until she tested negative, was then forced to spend two weeks in isolation in a hotel despite having no symptoms because the doctors tracking her case had received “anonymous calls”, she said.

This at least gave her a respite “from the gossip”, she said.

Some 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) away in Gabon, Jocelyn, a biologist who tests suspect cases in Libreville, said he is subjected to similar discrimination on a daily basis.

His team tries to keep a low profile when they visit homes, even if it means endangering their own health.

“We put our suits on inside rather than on the front steps,” he said.

“The Gabonese people panic at the idea of us coming to their homes,” he added. (AFP)

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