Why Social Stigma Still Prevents Mass Testing For Covid19 In Kashmir?

by Dr Ishtiyaq A Shah

What I want to communicate is that the people must go for tests because it is important for them. I would suggest that they must give up this ignorance, social stigma and other misconceptions and save society from further damage.

A Kashmiri doctor in protective gear takes a nasal swab sample of a village woman to test for COVID-19 in Budgam on May 18, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

A virus detected in Wuhan (China) named Covid-19 in December 2019, spread out in the whole world and paralysed countries, which claim to have the best health care facilities.  Everyone in rural and urban areas was watching the non-stop rise of deaths all over the world and the same was being uploaded on social media, which triggered Covid19 panic in every age group everywhere.

The USA and other most developed countries were the worst hit. It was the time when any case anywhere in village or town was detected, the victim was taken from home to a quarantine centre and the area were declared a red zone. The victims who were in need of psychological and physical health support were mostly being disgraced by the public, particularly by the ignorant people just as if the victim was the sinner before them.

Then it spread out almost everywhere and the concept of quarantine centres changed into home isolation centres or home quarantine due to lack of space in the quarantine centres.

Since December 2020, in India, there was a sigh of relief from the pandemic. But in February 2021, the cases of Covid19 started enhancing and the doctors’ claim that it is another strain of the virus and in March 2021, the pandemic spread like wildfire and this fire didn’t spare Jammu and Kashmir.

The overall global Covid19 infected cases to date are 165.5  million and the deaths have surged to more than 3.4 million as per the credible reports online.

The US is the worst-hit country with the highest no of Corona infected cases. India presently is at number two as per the Covid19 infected cases. (19,557,457) (reported by UHM of India) with the present daily approximately number of deaths ranging from 3500- 4000. The death toll of India reached 287 thousand.

Jammu and Kashmir has so far lost more than 3300 people and the overall infections have crossed 200 thousand.

Relatives carry the body of a COVID-19 victim, at Zadi Masjid Safa Kadal Srinagar Tuesday, May 4, 2021. We are in an era when we do not require caskets, we use bags. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

This information available at fingertips has created psychological problems among most people. Besides, the infection has been stigmatized mostly due to illiteracy particularly in rural areas where people are afraid of undergoing tests for detection of the virus due to the social stigma of the infection. It is the time when I myself is in-home quarantine due to the infection of Covid-19.

Though the government is offering a number of detections on daily basis, unofficially I can say this data of Covid19 positive cases would be many times more, especially in the area I live in – Shopian and Kulgam.

I have my first-hand experience. When a team of doctors from Shopian approached me after information of my infection they visited our home. They asked the residents of my village for the tests but only 2-3 % of them agreed for the same while the rest denied the test only because of the social stigma of the infection. On the other hand, I could not found a source of the test and I took my family to Block DH Pora District Kulgam, for the test, which then was positive for me and my mother.

You do not require a funeral ground – even a road is ok because not many people come to join. In this photograph relatives and locals attending the funeral prayers of Covid Positive person at Zadi Masjid Safa Kadal Srinagar Tuesday, May 4, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

I have also firsthand experience of the stigma attached to it. When I was detected as Covid19 positive case, I approached a medicate to a nearby village by my car, on the roadside of the medical shop I informed the medicate about my infection, who was inside his shop and I requested him for some medicine and oximeter but the medicate denied and even didn’t come near my car.

The same chemist was, before my infection, respecting me like his elder brother. The incident was very shocking for me. I was asymptomatic throughout. But the people were looking at me just as I have had stolen their most precious property.

Dr Ishtiyaq A Shah

In my area, people were considering me an atheist because I was following the SOP’s. There is a misconception that people following Covid19 SOP’s are non-believers.

The behaviour of the chemist and some other people was not less than any psychological trauma for me, which resulted in my tiredness and some other symptoms. What I want to communicate is that the people must go for tests because it is important for them. I would suggest that they must give up this ignorance, social stigma and other misconceptions and save society from further damage. They must understand that the people infected by the Covid19 require physical health support and also psychological support. There is a serious requirement of mass education of people about the pandemic and their responsibility.

(Author is Assistant Professor at Government Degree College Frisal, Kulgam. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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