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A majority of people who have recovered from COVID-19 have experienced some form of stigma, according to a study conducted by the ICMR during the first wave of the pandemic.
The pandemic triggered stigma and discrimination against individuals infected with or vulnerable to the SARS COV-2 virus due to the unpredictable nature of the disease, a lack of reliable information about its transmission and prevention and the fear of contracting it.
Against this background, the multi-centric mixed-methods study, conducted in 18 districts in seven states representing the major regions of India, explored the stigma perceptions, experiences and factors associated with the same among communities and individuals who recuperated from COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, said Dr Saritha Nair, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Medical Statistics (NIMS).
The study also assessed the knowledge of cause, modes of transmission, risk perception, preventive methods of COVID-19 and perception of mitigation measures of the stigma related to the same.
The results of the quantitative study showed that more than 60 per cent of the participants were aware of the correct cause, modes of transmission and preventive measures of Covid. This could be due to dissemination of key messages on the modes of transmission, preventive measures and signs and symptoms by the government, said Dr M Vishnu Vardhan Rao, Director, ICMR-NIMS.
"A majority (80.5 per cent) of the Covid-recovered participants from study sites reported having experienced at least one form of stigma. Of the 1,978 respondents from the community, 51.3 per cent reported severe stigmatising attitudes towards those diagnosed with COVID-19," Rao said, highlighting the findings of the study.
The experience of stigma varied across the study sites. The fear of the infection and a lack of adequate knowledge were observed to be associated with the stigma, Nair said. The findings highlighted the need for timely interventions to mitigate Covid stigma by increasing awareness and dispelling misconceptions about the modes of transmission and measures of prevention of the disease, she said.
Additionally, the study also suggested the need for psychosocial interventions to deal with the negative impact of the stigma on the individuals and families affected by COVID.
This multi-centric mixed-methods study was undertaken by the ICMR-NIMS in collaboration with six institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
After obtaining informed consent, the information was collected telephonically from individuals who had recovered from the infection and individuals from the community (aged above 18 years and not infected till the time of the data collection) from August 2020 to February 2021.
Information on demographic, socio-economic characteristics, COVID-19 knowledge and risk perceptions, stigma (assessed through stigma scales developed to understand experiences of Covid-recovered individuals as well as perceptions of the community on stigma attitudes) was collected, using a structured interview schedule from 2,281 respondents (1,978 from the community and 303 recovered from Covid).
The mean age of the Covid-recovered respondents (n=303) was 38.06 years, 69 per cent were married, 61.5 per cent had education up to the higher-secondary level or above, 41.6 per cent were employed in the formal sector and 63 per cent belonged to urban areas.
The mean age of the community respondents (n=1978) was 36.35 years, 71 per cent were married, 54.3 per cent had education up to the higher-secondary level or above, 32.8 per cent were employed in the formal sector and 51 per cent lived in rural areas.
"The situation has changed a lot since the first wave with awareness on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, treatment options and government interventions to mitigate the stigma related to the disease," Rao said.
"The research brief was published on the ICMR website for wider dissemination of strategies for mitigation of COVID-19 stigma and we are in the process of publishing the detailed findings in a peer-reviewed journal," Nair said.
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