BONELA acknowledges Government of Botswana’s promptness, proactivity and consistent COVID-19 updates as they relate to the state and development of the virus since its outbreak in Botswana. The updates have offered insight into the extent and impact of the virus on health and related spheres of life such as economic and social.
However, the organisation is gravely disturbed by what it views as disempowering and fear inducing messages about COVID -19 posted in the BW Government Face Book page. The images depict a graveyard, intensive care unit (ICU) and the implication that Greater Gaborone is a “danger zone” accompanied by messages that project what becomes of people when they fail to observe the Ministry of Health and Wellness protocols.
Though BONELA appreciates that the Task Force has expressed apprehension that the level of compliance with the health protocols and Emergency Powers Regulations by the public is less than desirable, we find that the messaging could potentially fuel stigma and discrimination as well as increase the anxiety associated with the unknown that is COVID-19 and the mitigation measures that have Batswana feeling trapped, nervous and helpless.
Consequently, rather than informing and assisting people to understand the virus so as to adopt effective, practical measures to keep themselves and their loved ones safe; the use of graveyards, ICU and magnifying the containment of Greater Gaborone only spurs people into agitation and reactive behaviours which may not help efforts to keep the pandemic at bay such as driving people underground – thereby not availing themselves for testing, whilst chronic anxiety may exacerbate pre-COVID mental health and other psychosocial challenges.
An online study conducted by experts from Utrecht and Tilburg Universities just three days after WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic pointed out that when a threat is uncertain and continuous as with COVID-19, fear can become chronic and burdensome. Thus, WHO has determined that stigma and fear around communicable diseases hamper response.
BONELA’s attitude is that it is imperative that facts, not fear, be made the predominant element in ensuring that communities and individuals positively respond to ongoing preventive interventions, and that these efforts are to be sustained. From a human rights point of view, BONELA contends that the ultimate effect of such images is in effect coercion, stigmatization and detachment.
As such, communities would be better served building trust in reliable health services and to adduce or show empathy to those affected.
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