Time we stopped stigmatisation; Covid-19 is not a death sentence

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What you need to know:

  • Bizarre burials and inhuman handling of bodies send the wrong message.

There are more than 70 guidelines and protocols and information education communication (IEC) materials on the Ministry of Health website but none adequately covers safe burial protocols for Covid-19 suspected or confirmed cases.
The manner in which the victims have been handled – such as rushed midnight burials and dramatised use of implements such as personal protective equipment (PPE) – is counterproductive.

Humiliation of the victims creates fear, anger and confusion. It creates a fertile ground for gossip and rumours that dilute the efforts to prevent or control the spread of the virus.
Bizarre burials and inhuman handling of bodies send the wrong message. It is the main cause of stigmatisation since many people, who have not seen first-hand what a coronavirus patient looks like, will forever associate the disease with the way their bodies are handled.

Worse, night burials in commando style and non-negotiable and inhuman attitude shown by the concerned officials send the wrong messages.
The deaths of high-profile Kenyans and their relatives, which have resulted in videos that have gone viral on social media, do not help the situation.

It is time the public were involved in designing the best-possible approaches to make handling of Covid-19 victims friendlier.
The government should work with the public and help the bereaved to conduct safe and dignified burials of suspected or confirmed coronavirus victims.

Families should have the opportunity to pay their last respectd to their loved ones by according them a honourable burial to the best of their ability.
This can only be facilitated by contextualised case-by-case basis, even if it means incurring more expenses to facilitate the health officials responsible for ensuring procedure is followed to the letter. It is important to give families the freedom of choice.
Knowledge is key in combating a pandemic.

Simplification of guidelines and protocols for wider adoption by the public is the first step towards defeating this unrelenting pandemic. This information is not just useful for medical practitioners but every citizen must socialise with these guidelines in their simplest form.

My experience working with disease outbreaks in East, West and Southern Africa gives me the confidence to rate Kenyans highly in terms of co-operating with the government in common causes such as beating a pandemic.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, embalming of bodies was widely practised during the Ebola epidemic, which catalysed the spread of the virus. In Liberia, armed groups attacked Ebola treatment centres to free up the patients due to stigma.

There are many other dynamics to learn from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea on the spread factors of Ebola that share the same patterns as Covid-19.

Kenya has favourable cultural beliefs and behavioral practices that, if well leveraged, can ease the prevention, control and management of Covid-19.

Godfrey Mawaa, water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) expert at World Vision International. [email protected]