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Building empathy and fighting corona related stigma

After the Lockdown: What Next?

When was the last time you went to get a haircut, to the movie hall, to the mall or a family gathering? These seem like things we did in another lifetime. Even though we all understand how critical it is to remain socially distant and stay indoors to break the chain and save lives, a part of us is yearning to reclaim the old, familiar way of life. Because old is familiar and comforting, and that's what we crave the most in distressing times. Even more so now that India has extended its lockdown till May 17th.

Even when the lockdown is lifted, we won't be able to go back to our old ways overnight. The government's focus throughout has been on a staggered exit, and the PM in his latest address to the nation also spoke about a case-by-case relaxation of restrictions as we successfully reduce the high number of transmissions and flatten the curve (reduce the percent of people that get infected with in a given period). The post-lockdown life may well be about learning to live our lives in new ways rather than going back to how things were in the past.

Here are some tips to manage the post-lockdown future:


Help Fight the Stigma

From the 1980s through the 1990s, there was a freakish stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. The fear of being ostracised (differentiated and neglected by society) pushed people to hide their condition, not only impacting their own health but also their sexual partners. The AIDS epidemic claimed 36 million lives worldwide.

A pattern of stigma can be seen repeated in the case of the novel Coronavirus. Doctors are being thrown out of their houses, people suspected of carrying the infection facing public anger and violence. Given that active testing and timely isolation are the best way to counter COVID-19 spread right now, it is important to collectively fight the stigma so that people don't hide travel histories, ignore the lockdowns or go into hiding.


Build Empathy

The course of fighting stigma goes through feeling empathy toward suspected and confirmed cases. Remember, a patient suffering from COVID-19 infection is a victim here and not a perpetrator. While you can't hold someone's hand through this ordeal, if the infected person is a friend, family member or co-worker, letting them know that you're there for them goes a long way. Small acts of kindness like a phone call to check in on them, exchanging texts to keep them entertained or dropping off groceries or essentials just outside the line of quarantine can go a long way.

Proactive Reporting and Testing

God forbid if you or someone close to you starts showing symptoms - dry cough, fever, fatigue or difficulty in breathing - reach out to the helpline number and report the case. It's not something you can hide and wish away. Being mindful of your physical health is going to be crucial once the lockdown is lifted, as we'd still be far from eliminating the virus. Considering that the incubation period (the time virus can take to activate) is up to 14 days, there may be many active carriers (people infected with the virus) in the public sphere unaware that they've been infected.

Self-Quarantine

If you do develop symptoms, reach out for medical help and place yourself in self-quarantine (stay indoors and avoid contact with people). Not everyone infected by the virus needs hospitalization. In fact, the rate of people who need to be checked into a medical care facility is around 5%. If you live with parents who're above 60 or other elderly members in the family, the self-quarantine has to be strictly confined and limited to one room or part of the house not accessed by these high-risk groups (those who are more likely to catch the virus because of their age or health conditions).

A little is actually a lot

A silver lining in this very dark cloud has been that in these 3 weeks spent indoors, a majority of us have realised that we consume more than we need. Be it food, clothes, 'essential services' or leisurely activities, we have been biting off more than we can chew and putting a strain on our environment. The slowing down of life is sending out a clear message - less is more. Welcome it!

For now, stay indoors, stay safe, help others, feed animals.

 


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