COVID-19 Op-ed

A Growing Stigma: The Danger of Discriminating Against the Rights of Healthcare Workers

Written by admin

Muhammad Diaz
Programme Coordinator | Research Analyst at
ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada

Whether doctors, nurses, administrative officers, kitchen
staff or janitors at quarantine centers, all are at the frontline of handling
the COVID-19 pandemic that willing to take risks to save patients’ lives.
Many out there play the ultimate role of fighting for the safety of those who
are still healthy as those who recover will develop herd
once the recovered have been discharged from the
hospital.The success of those at the frontline of the COVID-19 is paramount
in the handling of the pandemic, which was first reported at the end of 2019.
Therefore, sustenance for them should be made priority by the government and
private sectors with social support from the general public, as each party
has a role to play in further preventing the spread of this virus.However,
instead of receiving this critical support which they require, health care
workers face various difficulties in carrying out their duties. The situation
is further complicated by the scarcity of essential Personal Protective
Equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks and hazmat clothing which is causing
an increase of exposure to healthcare workers. The Indonesian Doctors
Association (IDI) has announced that 24
and 12
have died so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily
because they did not use adequate PPE due to the scarcity caused by hoarding
of the supplies and also panic buying by society despite the WHO regulations
giving the right to PPE for health workers during the COVID-19
.Additionally, healthcare workers are not able to exercise
the freedom to carry out their duties. For example in Jakarta, doctors
and nurses are not being allowed to enter houses because the community is
worried that they will spread the virus
. It has also been reported
that communities have banned health
workers who have died due to exposure from the coronavirus to be buried in
the local cemeteries
despite receiving guarantee that the condition
of the bodies comply with health regulations. It is very clear that, at this
point, even the right to be buried humanely has been deprived from those who
have fought against this pandemic. An underlying cause of this is stigma.Stigma
in handling the COVID-19 pandemic could have implications for the decline in
the performance of the healthcare system. Limiting the movement of healthcare
workers, their rejection by the community and community selfishness in the
form of hoarding and panic buying of PPE will adversely impact the
availability of health facilities and the performance of healthcare workers
in treating patients.This situation almost resembles the social
stigma which has been reported in the cases of HIV/AIDS
Stigmatization and discrimination not only occur from the surrounding
community with which they intersect, but also from the healthcare workers who
intensively interact with them.From research conducted by the ASEAN Studies
Center Universitas Gadjah Mada in collaboration with SHAPE-SEA in 2018 on
against the community living with HIV/AIDS
, the stigma primarily
arises from incomplete dissemination of information on what it means to be
HIV/AIDS positive. Further this misinformation has encouraged
assumptions-based understanding and a misjudgment of this health condition.
The two are also present across cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.Paranoia is
stoked by misleading news and media that highlights the numbers of
infections, deaths and recoveries like some sort of competition. The panic
created encourages people to resist restrictions and reject the healthcare
workers, leading to the discrimination against them.The key to this situation
is to respond. More needs to be done to educate the community in order for
this growing social stigma to be avoided. A social campaign such as #ClapForOurCarers,
that brings people to appreciate the work of healthcare workers could be an
example of alternative way to educate communities about the important role of
healthcare worker and as well as maintaining a positive social psychology for
everyone. By responding to this growing stigmatization, we are effectively
addressing the discrimination against the rights of our healthcare workers,
which is a much-needed form of support at the moment. It is time that the
community work hand in hand and focus on playing their respective roles in
battling the COVID-19 pandemic as it is the only way to bring it to an end
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