WHO urges people not to stigmatise affected regions

Published February 26, 2020
The United Nations health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged the international community on Tuesday not to stigmatise people from the areas affected by the  coronavirus epidemic. — AP/File
The United Nations health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged the international community on Tuesday not to stigmatise people from the areas affected by the coronavirus epidemic. — AP/File

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged the international community on Tuesday not to stigmatise people from the areas affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

On Monday, the agency explained that while a sudden increase in new cases of the virus was of concern, “the spread of coronavirus is not yet a pandemic.”

The agency said on Tuesday that it had received an increasing number of reports of public stigmatization against people from areas affected by the epidemic.

“Unfortunately, this means that people are being labelled, stereotyped, separated, and/or experience loss of status and discrimination because of a potential negative affiliation with the disease,” the agency noted.

The WHO acknowledged that since the coronavirus was a new disease, it’s understandable that its emergence and spread was causing confusion, anxiety and fear among the general public.

But the agency warned that factors were also causing harmful stereotyping, which could drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination, prevent them from seeking health care immediately and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours.

“Such barriers could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an infectious disease outbreak,” the agency warned.

The announcement said that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Unicef and the WHO were developing community-based guides and global campaigns to thwart the effects of stigma on people and the virus response. It also urged governments, citizens, media, key influencers and communities to their part to discourage this stigmatisation.

Also on Monday, UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a strong appeal, urging all countries to do their part to fight the spread of virus.

“The disease is still possible to be contained,” he said, speaking at a press conference in Geneva alongside the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Mr Ghebreyesus said his agency had not declared the virus a pandemic because: “We are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.” But he admitted that the coronavirus epidemics were occurring in different parts of the world, affecting countries differently.

On Tuesday, China reported 71 additional deaths, almost all of them in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak. More than 500 new cases have also been reported as confirmed cases across the country climbed to 77,600.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020

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