'Why are you not dead yet?' - dimensions and the main driving forces of stigma and discrimination among COVID-19 patients in Sri Lanka

Public Health - Journal Article

Objectives: To explore the experiences, and main driving forces of stigma and discrimination among COVID-19 patients, following hospital discharge, in Sri Lanka. Study design: A qualitative study was used in order to gain insight and explore the depth and complexity of COVID-19 patients' experiences. Method(s): Semi-structured interviews were conducted via telephone in a purposively selected sample of 139 COVID-19 patients. Participants were interviewed during the first 3 weeks following discharge from four main state hospitals that were treating COVID-19 patients during the early phase of the pandemic. Questions on stigma and discrimination were open-ended, enabling patients to provide responses about their different experiences and settings; results were analysed using thematic analysis. Result(s): The majority of participants were men (n = 80; 57.6%), with a mean age of 43 years (SD = 11.2). In total, up to one-third of the study participants experienced stigma related to COVID-19 and were discriminated against by the community, co-workers and healthcare workers in Sri Lanka. Social discrimination included barriers in accessing basic needs, insulting, blaming, defaming, spreading rumours and receiving no support during emergencies. Workplace discrimination included loss of jobs, not allowing re-entry and loss of earnings due to self-employment. Discrimination by healthcare workers included breaching of confidentiality, lack of respect, not providing health services and communication barriers. Discrimination has led to social isolation, not seeking help and severe psychosocial issues impacting their family relationships. Irresponsible media reporting and sensationalism of news coverage leading to breaching of privacy and confidentiality, defaming, false allegations and reporting household details without consent were perceived as the main factors underlying the views and opinions of the general public. Conclusion(s): Stigma and discrimination experienced by COVID-19 patients in society, workplaces and healthcare facilities have serious negative consequences at the individual and family level. Regulations on responsible media reporting, including an effective risk communication strategy to counteract its effects, are strongly recommended.Copyright © 2021 The Royal Society for Public Health

S. Jayakody, S. A. Hewage, N. D. Wickramasinghe, R. A. P. Piyumanthi, A. Wijewickrama, N. S. Gunewardena, S. Prathapan, C. Arambepola
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