Covid-19, the infectious disease caused by a new novel coronavirus, is having a significant impact on the world, and now, in Kenya.

The fear of Covid-19 is not in doubt. The world is already in crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has measures to handle the virus, potentially reducing its spread.

But what’s happening to those already infected by it? And what sort of treatment and feedback messages are they getting from the public? It is devastating.

The world, as of March 25, 2020, recorded 19,620 deaths from the virus. Over 400,000 are infected. The numbers are rising.

Kenya, on March 25, 2020, confirmed 28 cases, all under isolation – but the virus is spreading rapidly. The government has reported no death and encourages those who met infected patients to self-isolate for at least 14 days.

Misinformation and fears about Covid-19 have resulted in deaths in Kenya.

A woman in Samburu committed suicide after her family allegedly accused her of suffering from the lethal virus.

At the Coast, a group of youths armed with stones hit a suspected coronavirus sufferer in Kwale on March 17, 2020. The man, named locally as George Kotini Hezron, died in hospital.

HIV stigma

The Coast Civil Society Rapid Response Team, which Haki Yetu Organization and MUHURI are members, continues to monitor counties’ enforcement measures on Covid-19.

This writer is a member of the team – and recently, she visited two business premises in Mombasa alleged to have been frequented by a Covid-19 patient.

She talked to two staff who revealed that customers, friends, and relatives are questionably glaring at them, having to convince the public the said patient did not visit their premises — and that they are not infected.

Her conversation with the staff brought back the past first stigma experiences suffered by those who tested positive of HIV-AIDS in Africa.

Kenyan doctors diagnosed the first AIDS case in 1984. The government did not release national statistics on the malady until 1986.

Kenyan AIDS sufferers faced real stigmatization in the 80s and beyond. The society treated them as outcasts, said they were reckless in their behaviour, a bad omen to the community, and a cursed lot.

Patients believed they could not live anymore and were going to die. Many committed suicides before seeking medication.

The situation worsened as none wanted to make physical contact with victims, or sharing kitchen utensils for fear of “contamination or death”.

This writer says, in her community, AIDS victims met death due to lack of love, rejection, hopelessness in life, high cost of medication, and lack of care from friends and families.

But with time, the country managed the pandemic and drastically reduced associated deaths, destroying the culture of fear, ill-treatment, and stigmatization.

‘Not a death sentence’

History is repeating itself – Covid-19 seems to be taking us back when AIDS ravaged the country, and stigmatization escalated.

What the coronavirus patients and their close families, friends are experiencing is a déjà vu, and rekindles HIV stigma.

The two staff are likely to break down from abusive viral social media messages about their work premises. Despite all this, they must show a brave face and continue with their work to earn a living and pay their bills.

Let’s be mindful of Covid-19 patients, their families, citizens who interacted with them, and those infected without their knowledge.

We must support those currently in isolation and those who will test positive from coronavirus. Let’s be compassionate to them, be kind, share messages of consolation, courage, and check on each other to avoid depression and loneliness during this trying period.

Let us take steps towards non-stigmatization and toward a culture of peace. Let’s invite people across societies to tap their power of love, mercy, peace and non-violent change comprehensively and collaboratively.

The coronavirus pandemic, like many before, will come to pass. Already one of the 28 patients in Kenya has recovered. This is not a death sentence. But to overcome this, it all depends on how we manage ourselves and the discipline we instil to stay safe and protect others.

Ending this pandemic will require a vision of, and of policies supporting and fostering unity, cooperation, and healing.

We must adhere to government directives and its measures to curb the spread of the virus than economic safety-net shocks of such catastrophes.

Let’s give patients phycological support and prevent the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 fears, from sprawling from the current two.

We must reach out and be on hand to help deal with possible risks and rights violations at a time when all attention is on the virus. We will defeat Covid-19.

Joan Otengo handles emerging issues at Haki Yetu Organization