Kudos for the fight against coronavirus-related stigma

I would like to respond to the feature titled ‘Setting the record straight’, published in the Bulletin on November 2, regarding a group of medical students determined to remove the stigma surrounding recovered COVID-19 patients.

Since the first coronavirus case appeared in March, the authorities have been engaging the public in efforts to keep a tight lid on the spread.

So far, 144 individuals have recovered. We rejoice for each day that has no new cases; and we rejoice the number of active cases is at zero. But very often (unless we know them personally) they are not part of our consciousness.

Brunei Darussalam is a tiny nation with a small population. Social stigma, while a common phenomenon, is especially potent when there are perhaps only two to three degrees of separation between us.

As Bruneians, we pride ourselves for our familial approach to just about anything. A friend once told me that his boss agonised over firing an employee because he knew he had a big family to support. In a more populated country, where every employee is dispensable because a replacement can be found with a flick of a switch, it would have been a rather straightforward affair.

However, there is a flip side of living in such a close-knit community. Experts are still trying to understand the coronavirus that has brought the world to its knees. One day, they are certain that one cannot catch the virus twice; the next day, the narrative changes to “depending on the strain”. Given the anxiety surrounding the unknown as well as the restrictions that have been placed as a result of a global pandemic, it is understandable – albeit unfortunate – for people to view those who have contracted and later recovered from the virus with suspicion and fears.

The authorities understand that, and have been working hard to ensure information on recovered patients is kept strictly confidential. But we live in a small country after all; it doesn’t take a monumental effort to find out who these people are and where they live.

So it is heart-warming to read about a group of local youngsters that has their hearts set on nipping the social stigma in the bud through the raising of awareness. Instead of simply providing recovered patients with tips on how best to deal with discrimination, they are reminding the public of the need to support and empathise with those who have gone through the trauma of being “part of the statistics”.

The Conversationalist