Health & Fitness

Let’s first cure stigma for better healthcare

stress disorder
Depression, anxiety, and stress disorder have been noted in some medical workers. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

From your question, it is clear that you are afraid of “something”. What is not as clear is the exact thing you fear. Are you for example afraid that your relatives could somehow infect you with something, that causes kidney failure, or are you afraid that like your other family members, you might be genetically prone to kidney disease.?

Whether your fear is due to the first or second reason, it is clear that you do not know enough about kidney diseases in general but in this day and age, that is an easy matter to resolve. Simply do a Google search and much information will, as they say, be available to you by the touch of a button. If you have more questions, you could talk to your own doctor or even better persuade your relatives to allow you to talk to their doctor about your fears. In the 21st century, most doctors are able and willing to help with the kind of information you now seek.

That said, your question raises a number of issues that are common to many chronic medical conditions. Stigma and discrimination are both quite common in medical practice and are often driven by lack of knowledge.

The most recent example of disease- related discrimination and stigma was in the earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. President Trump for example talked about what he called “this Chinese disease”. This led to some people distancing themselves from the Chinese. It is now clear that the virus does not discriminate. By mid-April 2020, all corners of the world have reported cases, and oddly that has put to bed that sort of stigmatisation.

Sadly, that sort of thinking has continued with some infectious diseases including TB and HIV/AIDS. Common to the fear and discrimination is worry associated with the origins and treatment of these and other conditions. Happily, the efforts to educate the public, seem to be largely successful. The combination of increased public information and the availability of effective treatment have worked together to reduce stigma.


Sadly, the same cannot be said of my field of work— mental health. Many countries have put in place programmes aimed at reducing the discrimination associated with mental illness. Just for the record, stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because you have a mental illness. Discrimination on the other hand is when somebody treats you in a negative way because you have a mental illness. As with other conditions, ignorance and the lack of effective treatments are at the centre of stigmatisation.

During the recently concluded public hearings by the Mental Health Task Force, it was clear that schools, universities as well as employers are guilty of this practice.

Regrettably, frontline medical workers in response to Covid-19 have been subjected to a measure of discrimination by some people. Some have even suggested that those on the frontline should be isolated from their families.

What they need is better and more effective protective equipment. Some studies mainly from China, where the pandemic started, have shown that medical workers are at a great risk of developing mental health related disorders by virtue of the stress associated with their work. Depression, anxiety, and stress disorder have been noted in some medical workers. Add to this the issues of discrimination and one is set to create a new problem with one of the most valuable assets in this war, which is the frontline medical worker.

Many studies in particular from the field of mental health have shown some modest success. Top in the list of what works in the reduction of stigma, is knowledge. The more people know about the causes and treatment outcomes of a disease the less the stigma associated with the condition.

The month of May is designated as the Mental Health Month, and sector workers have planned a series of activities to educate the people on the common mental disorders.

Top in the list of the many educational activities is the dissemination of information on suicide. Not many people know for example that almost all people who die by suicide are suffering from depression as an illness. Note here the language used is that of a person who dies by suicide. People commit crimes, adultery and other things repugnant to the law or morality but die by the condition suicide. Mental health workers are working hard to rectify the language in the law in this regard.

Doctors who practice in the field of nephrology are also very keen to educate the public on kidney diseases. They would more than happy to help you better understand what risks you might be facing.