By Senator Hon. Isabel Guadalupe Bennett
Some people, myself included, stayed up doing hurricane watch to ensure that my family was safe and stood ready to assist if there was a neighbour in need of help. With hurricane Nana gone her merry way having done minimal damage, as a nation we give thanks. As the saying goes, God won’t give us more than we can bear! We would all love to see Covid disappear just the same, and of course not just Belize but the world over. Instead, Covid continues to spread like wildfire in our country with a total of 1101 as of yesterday September 2nd according to the post from the Office of the Director of Health Service. And with its deadly presence, the issue of stigma and discrimination is presented not just by family members in some cases but also by the larger community as well as GOB.
Whilst on my hurricane watch, I happened upon a worrisome Facebook message posted by an angry villager. As I dialogue with the facebooker, hoping to gain empathy for the affected Covid-19 patient and eliminate the stigma and discrimination in the post, I quickly realized the situation was not as clear cut because of what was being shared. However, I was keen in trying to understand this situation before some concerns I had after reading the Office of the Director of Health Service August 30, 2020 update which indicated one (1) confirmed case in 13 villages.
The Facebook situation shared has become even more worrisome to me because of three reasons – the stigma and discrimination directed to the “one” confirmed case in the small village which had one shop and one village bus (typical of many of our rural communities), worrisome too because of the possible total disregard for the safety of the wider community and the law on the part of the individual who is not exercising self-quarantined and thirdly the loud absence of GOB to address these obvious issues at a community level in respect to follow-up health and social services and law enforcement.
The stigma and discrimination in and of itself presents additional harm and distress for the affected individual. Some might argue and say that’s only if the individual understands the gravity of this deadly condition and really cares about his or her health and that of his/her family. What is additional alarming and very, very sad is the fact that the stigma and discrimination can present in various ways and from various levels within the individual’s own family, the community and even government.
So added to the mental anguish of confinement, social isolation, emotional/mental issues and definitely loss of income and financial difficulties, persons with Covid-19 can, in most cases, be further exposed to verbal and physical abuse possibly by immediate family members and they have no access to quick health information especially without internet on a smartphone. And in our rural communities, confirmed cases do not have access to preventative and emergency healthcare in an emergency because the nearest health facilities are usually miles away or the health care providers only work certain hours. And the absence of culturally-sensitive Covid-19 health information will for sure, if not already since March 2020, create huge cultural barriers as we see the deep rural communities now being affected.