President Ramaphosa says that stigmatisation against COVID-19 patients must stop

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For months, a substantial amount of research has gone into the current global pandemic. Not a day goes past without media publications touching on the subject.

Currently, the South African figures stand at 138 134 confirmed cases. Out of this figure, there has been 68 925 recoveries and 2456 deaths. As the number of COVID-19 related deaths increase, President Cyril Ramaphosa reflects on those who have lost their lives.

“Among those who have lost their lives are health care workers, consummate professionals who cared for the ill, and were a support and comfort to those in hospital isolated from their families. That the men and women carrying out this most noble and sacred of duties are themselves falling ill and dying is a devastating blow,” President Ramaphosa says.

These are individuals who are on the frontline of fighting the pandemic. Each of these people works under immense pressure, carrying the psychological strain of knowing they are at risk. They are the true heroes and heroines of our battle against coronavirus.

Read more: Nurses, the true heroes in the fight against giants

“We salute these brave South Africans who leave their homes, families and loved ones to report without fail for duty every day in clinics, hospitals and other health facilities. There they provide medical care, administrative support and other services like cleaning and catering,” Ramaphosa adds.

However, Ramaphosa adds that just as they perform their professional duty, we as a country have a duty to them. Their health and safety must be paramount.

“We honour them and uphold them as the men and women who have demonstrated they are prepared to risk their lives so that we may live. For them to do their Herculean work they need our support as well as protection through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Through the support of the Solidarity Fund and donations from many individual South Africans, businesses, foundations and other governments, the South African government has been able to procure personal protective equipment for these brave frontline workers. Where there have been shortages of PPE, hospitals are urgently attending to ensuring that they are available.

“We know that access to PPE is not the only challenge our health care workers face. Across the country clinics and hospitals are facing staff shortages. This problem is being attended to,” Ramaphosa adds.

To support the work that frontline workers are performing around the country, Ramaphosa claims the government is deploying Ministers and Deputy Ministers to each of the districts in the country. This is in order to get a better understanding of specific challenges in these districts and to work with provincial health authorities.

“We need to work together to safeguard the health of not just our frontline workers but the entire workforce.”

Ramaphosa adds there has been sterling work done by unions in educating members around infection control, prevention and hygiene. These unions are also supporting the work of the Department of Employment and Labour in conducting workplace inspections. This ensures health and safety protocols are in place for returning workers.

However, Ramaphosa says one of the biggest challenges currently being faced in South Africa is the stigmatisation of people who have tested positive with coronavirus.

“As a society, we have a collective responsibility to stamp out the stigmatisation of people infected with the coronavirus. There have been disturbing reports of individuals being ostracised from their communities and of communities protesting against coronavirus patients being admitted to local hospitals and clinics. This must stop.”

Read more: Dr Regina Hurley, the chair of the Mediclinic Newcastle COVID-19 task team, sheds light on the pandemic

“Just as we came together to promote acceptance of people living with HIV and stood firm against victimisation, we must show understanding, tolerance, kindness, empathy and compassion for those who are infected with this virus and for their families,” Ramaphosa emphasises.

It is said that this stigmatisation is driven by fear of contracting the disease and lack of understanding.

“The best way to overcome our instinctive fear of illness and contagion is to observe the hygiene protocols that are in place. The fear of infection is well-founded and real. At the same time, we know what we have to do to protect ourselves and others,” Ramaphosa explains.

The president says it is imperative to be guided by facts and not rumours in order to avoid stigmatisation. Especially since we know what causes the virus and what we can do to protect ourselves from becoming infected. 

In the days, weeks and months that lie ahead, the president says we will find ourselves despondent and fearful at times. This is as the country sees the number of infections and deaths increasing.

“It may be that things have gotten worse, but we are certain that they will get better. Our scientists and medical advisers told us that the rate of infections will go up as we move towards our peak. But it will certainly come down.”

However, Ramaphosa says it is vital for us to keep ourselves safe and work together to save lives.

“We shall overcome this virus and rebuild our society. We have seen darker times and we have prevailed,” he concluded.

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