Coronavirus stigma worries Limpopo health MEC Ramathuba

Health minister Zweli Mkhize and Limpopo MEC Phophi Ramathuba.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize and Limpopo MEC Phophi Ramathuba.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

Stigmatising people who test positive for Covid-19 is real and frightening.

Limpopo MEC for health Dr Phophi Ramathuba said even healthcare workers were discriminating against some of their colleagues and calling them names.

"There was a recent case at Sekororo Clinic where colleagues spoke bad about their two colleagues and were ill-treating them. People can even attack you without facts that one is positive and will be accusing you of deliberately infecting people," she said.

Ramathuba said this was one of the reasons the government decided not to name infected people unless they decide to do so of their own will.

In an interview with Sowetan, Ramathuba said the growing stigma attached to Covid-19 is unacceptable.

"When you look at a public figure, there are intrapersonal issues to be considered in a sense that besides being MEC Ramathuba, I'm still a mother and daughter. People are not refusing to be named, it is because we need to prepare all those people around them. Because the consequences are that people are going to be traumatised and deal with post-traumatic stress."

Ramathuba said she was dealing with the stigma on a daily basis. "I get complaints from nurses in various hospitals discriminating against some of their own and it is very sad because those are people who need to be in the forefront of this fight.

"We need to change that behaviour where people stigmatise others and fight the pandemic together," she said.

Ramathuba said the world was dealing with a pandemic that has caused a lot of fear.

"The fear is real, it doesn't matter how much education we give out to the people of Limpopo and chances are that 80% will be infected."

Ramathuba confirmed she was not the executive who tested positive.

This after the Limpopo government released a statement that one of its MECs tested positive and was currently in self-isolation, and Sowetan reported that it was Ramathuba.

Ramathuba said she would not withhold that kind of information. "It was very harmful to me, my family and colleagues, particularly my mother who learnt from her church mates. Even some of my enemies were already wishing me death on social media."

Ramathuba painted a bleak picture of what would happen if people continued playing ignorant of the dangers posed by the coronavirus.

"There would be 15% [of the population] that would need to be taken to hospitals and 5% will be taken to ICUs. And the death rate is now at 3%."

Limpopo is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of infected people with Sekhukhune district municipality becoming the epicentre of the province. Ramathuba said the MDR-TB facility in Modimolle where infected people are quarantined has already run out of space.

"We receive calls from individuals telling us they want to be quarantined because people taken to the centre recover very soon. All our infected healthcare workers are quarantined there and will have to resort to other state facilities."

She said the Limpopo government has done its best to make sure people comply.

"We have done our best to educate people of Limpopo to follow the guidelines but we are not seeing the benefits. The numbers are rapidly increasing and people are not changing their behaviour."

She said her department will be introducing a community-based strategy to force the elderly and vulnerable to stay in their homes.

"We are going to deploy community based healthcare workers to screen those elderly people for diabetes and hypertension, and other chronic illnesses. If we get into your house and we get a granny sick, we are going to quarantine her in her rondavel or room and only a few people will be allowed in the room."

She likened the strategy to the old African way when a baby was born it would be quarantined in a room for three months without any visitation by some members of the family, including the father.

She attributed the old model to her mother who she said advised her to consider it. "We are going to quarantine these vulnerable people in an effort to protect them because we dearly care about them. And we will be introducing a tracking system to monitor the movement of these elderly people.

She said the tracking system will be launched soon. She said the province has reached a stage where it now depended on individuals to change their behaviour and treat everyone as if they are positive in order to contain the spread of coronavirus.

"We have failed talking to people and now they should protect themselves."

Ramathuba was concerned about sporadic incidents where people gather to play soccer.

"We are putting a lot of effort into making sure that people comply but we have failed because they continue gathering and behave like they are used to the virus. The very same people playing soccer will be going home to infect the grannies and it's highly unacceptable."

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