Left Menu
Development News Edition

Coronavirus stigma runs deep and dangerous in Indonesia

“I was angry of course," he said, "If I had not been restrained (by relatives), I don’t know what could’ve happened." As the coronavirus rippled across the world's fourth most populous country, it also carried a stigma that public health experts say has stopped people from getting tested in fear of being shunned, and complicated the response to the pandemic.

Reuters | Updated: 17-09-2020 10:35 IST | Created: 17-09-2020 10:21 IST
Coronavirus stigma runs deep and dangerous in Indonesia
Representative Image Image Credit: ANI

When Ari Harifin Hendriyawan's mother tested positive for the coronavirus, their neighbours brought a hammer and nails and boarded up the lane.

From his home in the lush foothills of Indonesia's West Java, the 23-year-old told Reuters the barricade appeared days after he received a negative test result and was at home self-isolating. "I was angry of course," he said, "If I had not been restrained (by relatives), I don't know what could've happened."

As the coronavirus rippled across the world's fourth most populous country, it also carried a stigma that public health experts say has stopped people from getting tested in fear of being shunned, and complicated the response to the pandemic. For months Indonesia has struggled to stem a rise in transmission, with nearly 229,000 cases and a death toll of 9,100, the second highest in Asia after India. It also has one of the world's lowest testing rates.

Indonesia's COVID-19 taskforce spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito said the stigma those infected face remains a problem. He said the government was doing what it could to counter that. "Stigma can only be erased by tirelessly promoting health to increase awareness about infections and empathy to help those in need," he said.

Indonesia has drawn criticism from public health experts for its relative lack of testing, its patchwork social restrictions to contain the spread of the disease and a list of unscientific treatments praised by cabinet ministers. At least two ministers had also caught the virus. From across Indonesia, more than a dozen healthcare workers told Reuters how the stigma around coronavirus had complicated their work or, in some cases, increased risks.

In the riverside city of Banjarmasin on Borneo, hazmat-suited civil servants told Reuters of how their arrival caused panic in the streets. They now ask contacts to visit the health centre to avoid unwanted attention - even though that could increase the risk of contact and transmission. From Medan, North Sumatra, nurses recounted how they were expelled from a village in March and told the virus was fake news, while others have received abusive phone calls from parents, perplexed as to why their child, but not another, had contracted the disease.

NIGHT-TIME CONVOYS In remote West Papua, so deep is the fear that nurses have on several occasions escorted patients into quarantine in the dead of night – pre-arranged convoys of motorbikes snaking along jungle roads.

"The patients themselves requested this," nurse Yunita Renyaana, told Reuters via Zoom. "They would say, 'Sister, not tomorrow, come tonight so nobody knows... They were afraid of the stigma, of being seen as a disgrace, or a source of contagion." A survey by Lapor COVID-19, an independent coronavirus data initiative, and researchers at the University of Indonesia last month found that 33 percent of 181 respondents reported having been ostracized after contracting the coronavirus.

"This stigma phenomenon is costing people's health and also their mental health," said Dicky Pelupessy, a psychologist involved in the survey. "There are cases where people just don't want to be tested, don't want to be seen as having contracted the virus." On the islands of Java, Sulawesi and Bali, bereaved families have also barged into hospitals to claim bodies of COVID-19 victims, fearing their relatives might not be given a burial in line with religious beliefs.

Dozens were subsequently infected. "The government is not doing enough to really educate the people," said Sulfikar Amir, a disaster sociologist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, "That's one of the reasons we have seen extreme reactions."

Among various Indonesian government initiatives is one with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and some 25,000 field workers to help share information about the coronavirus, including through Facebook, to help improve awareness and counter fake news and stigma. But months into the pandemic, many still feel isolated.

Ari's mother was asymptomatic and stayed isolated for over a month, he said, but he still feels shunned by neighbors. Reflecting on the experience, Ari, now unemployed after the cafe he worked in closed due to the virus, said the response lacked empathy, and logic.

"I think they're afraid," Ari told Reuters, "Maybe for them the coronavirus is as big as an elephant." (Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

Post-COVID-19 Nigeria needs a robust Health Management Information System to handle high disease burden

Nigeria is among a few countries that conceptualised a health management information system HMIS in the early 90s but implementation has been a challenge till date. Besides COVID-19, the country has a huge burden of communicable and non-com...

Morocco COVID-19 response: A fragile health system and the deteriorating situation

Learning from its European neighbors, Morocco imposed drastic measures from the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak to try to contain its spread. The strategy worked for a few months but the cases have surged after mid-June. In this sit...

COVID-19: Argentina’s health system inefficiencies exaggerate flaws of health information system

You can recover from a drop in the GDP, but you cant recover from death, was the straightforward mindset of Argentinas President Alberto Fernndez and defined the countrys response to COVID-19. The South American nation imposed a strict...

Rwanda’s COVID-19 response commendable but health information system needs improvement

Rwanda is consistently working to improve its health information system from many years. However, it is primarily dependent on the collection and reporting of health data on a monthly basis. Besides, evaluation studies on Rwandas HIS publis...

Videos

Latest News

Oxygen levels, pulse rate, BP under control, being attended by expert doctors: Sahasrabuddhe

BJP national vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, who had been admitted to AIIMS after testing positive for COVID-19, said his oxygen levels, pulse rate, and BP are under control and he is being attended by expert doctors. Countless friends ...

Tiny Rubik's Cube goes on sale in Japan for anniversary

A tiny but playable Rubiks Cube, so little it fits on your fingertip, has gone on sale in Japan for 198,000 yen, or about USD 1,900, for delivery starting in December. Billed as a super-small Rubiks Cube, it was created to mark the 40th ann...

Standards for Safety Evaluation of Hydrogen Fuel Cell-based vehicles notified

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has notified the Standards for Safety Evaluation of vehicles being propelled by Hydrogen Fuel cells through an amendment to Central Motor Vehicles Rules 1989 made vide GSR E Dated 23rd September 2...

UTI AMC's Rs 2,160-cr IPO to open on Sep 29; price band set at Rs 552-554

UTI Asset Management Company AMC on Thursday fixed a price band of Rs 552-554 per share for its initial public offering IPO, that will open for public subscription on September 29. The IPO would open for public subscription on September 29 ...

Give Feedback