It is common for people to panic during a pandemic, and for certain people to become stigmatised, which is very dangerous. People in Bangladesh too are being affected by such fear and stigma during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are reports in the country of attacks on the homes of some Covid-19 patients and refusal to take money that has been touched by patients, said a research.
A research titled – "'They won't Even Touch the Money We Touched' Stigma, Shame and Covid-19" was conducted by adjunct faculty member Shahana Siddique and research associate Nahela Nowshin of the James P Grant School of Public Health of Brac University.
The findings of the research were published in an online conference titled – "Rapid Assessment of Fear and Stigma Associated With the Covid-19 Pandemic in Bangladesh" on Saturday.
Shahana Siddique said, "Covid-19 patients are being considered untouchables."
"After many people got infected in an area in old Dhaka, shopkeepers even refused to take money from recovered Covid-19 patients and their family members there. The coronavirus patients could not even buy anything by paying cash," said Shahana.
The online survey for the research started on April 22 and will continue till May 6.
The researchers surveyed 170 people till April 29. The researchers interviewed people from different areas in Dhaka city and analysed information on the media. They also conducted in-depth interviews of coronavirus patients and their families that were under lockdown.
People told the researchers that doctors and nurses, even when wearing PPE, were refusing to provide medical services to possible Covid-19 patients and their family members.
Coronavirus patients could not even buy food because no one wanted to touch the cash notes they tried to give the shopkeepers. The fear comes from not knowing how the virus spreads, despite the overwhelming number of reports published about it in the media.
Another research published at the online conference said that when the virus started to spread, people fell victim to a false feeling of safety.
The research titled – "Fear and Stigma in the Context of Corona Epidemic in Bangladesh" was done by Dr Shahaduzzaman at the University of Sussex, and Dr Suman Rahman at the University of Liberal Arts. Bangladesh Health Watch assisted in the research.
The researchers analysed data collected through telephone interviews, mainstream media, and social media From January to April 20.
The researchers found that fear and stigma related to the novel coronavirus developed in six stages.
In the first stage, a false prediction based on religious and scientific ideas spread among Bangladeshi people that the novel coronavirus was a disease of other countries, and it was caused by their sins and food habits. At that time doctors and scientists also sent the wrong message that the novel coronavirus cannot survive in our country's weather.
The second phase started at the beginning of March, when the first Covid-19 patient was found here. At that time, people feared those who returned from abroad and stigmatised them, because the first novel coronavirus patient in the country was a person who returned home from Italy. The administration also started marking foreign returnees with seals on their hands, and by hoisting red flags at their homes.
People in the community started to humiliate foreign returnees in the third phase.
During fourth phase, which started in the third week of March, panic spread among local people in an area when a man died from the Covid-19 without coming in touch with anybody who came from abroad. At this stage different types of information on the coronavirus started to appear on social media. Also confusion regarding the burial of Covid-19 patients arose at that time, which caused a "liquid fear" in society.
In the fifth stage fear and stigma spread over the confusion about lockdown and shutdown, food crisis, the garments' workers return to Dhaka, increase of patients in different areas in the city, and the lack of PPEs for doctors.
During the sixth stage, people started to carry their family members who had Covid-19 symptoms to the jungle and leave them there. Sometimes people attacked the houses of novel coronavirus patients and behaved inhumanely with them.
Dr Shahaduzzaman said, "The words quarantine, isolation, and social distancing were circulated among the people in an unperceivable way. These words carried no message to them. To remove the fear and stigma, these words have to be transmitted in an understandable way."
"The process of imposing a lockdown needs to be made softer. Steps should be taken to remove the stigma at the individual, communal, and national level. Stigma prevention committees need to be formed with the help of the administration," he said.
Dr Shahaduzzaman also said Brac staged plays with people who recovered from the Ebola virus to drive away stigma about them. He thinks that Bangladesh can use Brac's method to diffuse misunderstanding about the novel coronavirus.