Mr Olusegun Adekunle, Permanent Secretary, General Services Office, Office of Secretary to Government of the Federation, has urged Nigerians not to discriminate against persons who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Adekunle, who co-ordinates the activities of the Presidential Task Force, on COVID-19, made the call in an interview on Friday in Abuja.
He said that any form of discrimination would further leave scars of mental trauma on those infected.
“It is worse for those with existing mental illness. Let us support them by reducing stigma about them,” he advised.
The Permanent Secretary said that the fear and the stigma associated with COVID-19 could contribute to the spread of the disease.
“It can also drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination. This can lead the person to not seek any medical help.
“Our choice of words matter and we should be encouraged to use inclusive language and less stigmatising terminologies.
“Phrases such as ‘people who have COVID-19’ or ‘people who are being treated for COVID-19’ instead of ‘victims’, should be used “he suggested.
Adekunle said that stigma emerged quickly in times of crisis.
“Let us be positive and encouraging with our words, and we should avoid the use of negative words or messages.
“Stopping stigma is immensely important to making communities and community members resilient,” he said.
The PTF official also stated that stigma robbed individuals of opportunities that define quality life ranging from satisfactory health care to affiliation with a diverse group of people.
He added that it could also hurt those who are trying to battle their challenge.
“Stigma hurts those who lost loved ones due to the condition or are trying to support their loved ones as they cope with the condition,” he said.
He noted that the PTF team would continue to support risk communication activities in the form of campaigns, radio programmes and community engagement across the country.
He called on Nigerians to support the front line workers because they were at the front line of the COVID-19 outbreak response and were exposed to the risk of infection, including pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence.
“Let’s support our front-line people and keep them safe from this virus by taking precautions made available by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control,” he urged.
Adekunle equally urged Nigerians to wear masks when within six feet of others.
He said that mask-wearing could help prevent a resurgence of the virus with less reliance on lockdowns that have proven economically devastating.
“Remember, viruses don’t discriminate, but people do. Together we can stand against COVID-19 stigma by minding our language.
“Talk about it, but don’t gossip and let’s counter misinformation,” he said.
He, however, said that as far as COVID-19 goes, it had proven to overwhelm the healthcare systems of countries that were hard hit.
“In China, additional hospitals had to be built in a matter of days to handle the impact because they did not have enough beds.
“Equipment shortages are almost certain since those hospitalised with the virus often need ventilators because they cannot breathe on their own.
“There are only so many ventilators and when too many people need them, it forces doctors to decide who gets them and who doesn’t,” he added.
Adekunle implored Nigerians to continue wearing face masks because COVID-19 could be spread by asymptomatic people even when they are not showing symptoms.
“The virus is “still very contagious,” he said.