According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.As part of its overall drive to fight COVID-19 and in the implementation of its 10-point plan, the Minerals Council South Africa (MSCA) and its members place a great deal of emphasis on education and communication both for employees and communities. Nationally and internationally the issue of stigmatisation of COVID-19 has significant ramifications for reporting, for behaviour and for people getting treatment. Stigmatisation is driven by fear, particularly the fear of the unknown. In the mining industry the MCSA has recognised that stigmatisation has an impact at various levels. At a community level, stigmatisation may not only have an impact on the way in which mineworkers may be perceived in communities, but also in the way in individuals and groups within communities behave and are treated. Fear of stigmatisation may lead to irresponsible behaviour, such as people not wearing masks out of concern that they may be seen as being ill; not reporting when they are ill; and even not getting treatment when they need it which may result in complications and even death. At a company level, stigmatisation could result in in a lack of support for individuals who are ill or apportioning blame to those who are infected as if their infection is something they brought upon themselves. At an individual level, this could result in a lack of reporting by affected people for fear of discrimination and prejudice, as well as the denial of symptoms and risks. And, in some cases, could lead to irresponsible behaviour as individuals believe they will not be affected simply because of who they are, not how they behave. To address the issue of stigma, the Minerals Council and its members have taken the following steps:
- Building trust in health services and company support mechanisms
- Providing sufficient understandable and practical information in a non-judgmental and transparent way.
- Showing empathy and care for those who are affected.
- Providing practical avenues that individuals can and should follow to protect themselves and others, both in the prevention of illness and also in the event that they do contract the virus.
MCSA members dealing with COVID-19 stigmaSome of the MCSA’s members shared some of the approaches that they are taking to dealing with stigma and risk behaviour. Exxaro Resources shared examples of the company’s campaign to directly address stigma by focussing on 10 basic truths, and in so doing calling out myths. Some of these basic truths are:
- COVID-19 affects people of all ethnic groups
- People of all ages can get seriously ill.
- A face mask does not mean someone is infected.
- You are no longer infectious once you have recovered.