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Stigma: Our new enemy in the war against Corona virus disease

By Emma Seline Okello | May 27th 2020 at 10:50:00 GMT +0300

Emma Seline Okello, a maritime expert and comments on social issues


The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that the Coronavirus disease is here to stay sent shock waves amongst Kenyans.

Probably this is because Kenyans have been straining under strict measures by the Ministry of Health to curb the spread of the virus.

With the economy taking a beating, employers downsizing their operations and salary cuts becoming a normal phenomenon, describing the statement from WHO as worrying is an understatement. This begs the question, are we headed to another lockdown?

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s last address to the nation gave strong hints that the country may not be in lockdown for a prolonged period. This statement by the president shone a ray of hope to a majority of Kenyans who have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

The focus now shifts to the Government’s next move with the 6th June deadline on the extension of measures to curb COVID 19 is fast approaching. With the possibility of relaxing the tough measures, employers should prepare to welcome back employees who mostly have been working from home in a bid to contain the spread of the disease. It will be likely that some employees may have at one point or another interacted with persons infected by the Coronavirus. Others may have been infected and undergone treatment successfully.

It is in this regard that employers come up with measures that would accommodate persons who may have been infected by the disease. How would colleagues treat each other especially at a time when the disease has been stigmatized. The story of how gruesome funerals are conducted to the victims who succumb to the Corona virus.

Perhaps it is time for employers to revise their HR policies to incorporate critical measures that are meant to curb the spread of the virus. Such measures include social distancing, personal hygiene, proper sanitization, and donning masks at all times.
The most critical move however would be that of organizations renegotiating their medical insurance cover contracts with insurance firms to include treatment of employees who test positive for Coronavirus disease. The disease is infectious, proper hygiene at the workplace will be key hence the revision of the policies on occupational health and safety is revised to include measures on Coronavirus.

With this experience, it is time that the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM) comes up with policies extracted from MOH guidelines to advice HR leads an organization on how to treat information regarding the spread of COVID 19 and subsequent treatment of those affected to avoid the stigma of victims.

The HR teams can lead anti-stigma campaigns to ensure staff at risk are comfortable as they discharge their daily duties. Team leaders in organisations should take the lead and be at the forefront in coordinating information at the workplace.  Colleagues at the workplace have a role to play too.

The responsibility of fighting stigma should therefore not be entirely for HR and team leaders alone but amongst colleagues too. When everybody comes together to fight stigma then the workplace will be rid of this menace. The recent rising number of cases being announced by the Government should be a wakeup call for organisations to step up their efforts and ensure proper information is channeled to avoid unnecessary stigmatisation.

With continued stigmatisation, I bet many people experiencing COVID 19 like symptoms will shun coming out for testing and that will be our first step towards losing the war against the Corona Virus disease. To win the war on Coronavirus disease, we need to first fight and slay this dragon, Stigma. If we continue feeding this monster, then it will end up wiping out more people than the pandemic itself.
The writer is a maritime expert and comments on social issues

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