Rivers State Report:
The scepticism about the existence of the deadly coronavirus, has become a trending development in Rivers State, despite the rising number of confirmed cases in the State, which stood at 489, as of June 14, 2020. The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who spoke recently about the distrust and disbelief of many residents in the State about the virus, stressed that their cynicism is posing a major challenge in the bid to rapidly combat the pandemic, as he hinted that Bonny Local Government Area is now the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for a large percentage of the number of confirmed cases in the State. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also known as Social Action, a non-governmental organisation currently involved in research and monitoring of the impacts of COVID-19, has noted that the scepticism and denial surrounding the pandemic, is symptomatic of the stigmatisation of persons confirmed to be infected with the disease. The fear of stigmatisation from having one’s family member tagged a coronavirus survivor or added to the statistics of coronavirus deaths, is what drives the narrative falsely peddled by many in the State that the virus is not real. Many would rather profess that COVID-19 is a hoax; and in the event that anyone in their families dies, it will never be said that the life was lost to the novel disease, even if it was. This explains the reason why, in spite of the fact that, some prominent persons in the state who are well-known to the people, have died as a result of coronavirus, many people would still not want to admit to themselves that the virus is real.
This situation has been made worse by the reported public utterances of some religious leaders in the State who have allegedly denounced the existence of the virus, thus reinforcing the people’s doubts and unwittingly encouraging many people to carry on living in denial. Many bereaved families would rather have their dead buried in secret when it’s a case of coronavirus, because of the stigma attached to the disease. This, the State Government is trying to tackle, through the instrumentality of the recently signed Executive Order (RVSG – 122020) which makes it mandatory for burials in the State to be conducted only after approval has been gotten from the government and the cause of death, disclosed in a death certificate to be submitted alongside the request for approval to the Ministry of Health.
Having identified the fear of stigmatisation as the root cause of the scepticism and apathy demonstrated by majority of the populace towards the fight against COVID-19, Social Action hereby lends its voice to the #SayNoToStigmatisation campaign and strongly urges all residents of Rivers State to dismiss rumours about the coronavirus disease and gallantly stand in unity with the government to combat the pandemic. With the number of confirmed cases skyrocketing, the people of the State will be doing themselves a disservice, should they decide to fold their arms and live in denial while the pandemic rages on and takes more casualties. The people owe it to themselves and future generations, to reject stigmatisation and wage a full-scale war against the scourge by complying with all standard precautions towards curtailing its spread. Persons suspected to have been infected with coronavirus, must not be harboured in secret, but should be encouraged to undergo a medical test, at an officially – designated Test centre in the State.
Social Action also calls on the Rivers State Government to collaborate more efficiently with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC and other stakeholders, in ensuring that more tests are conducted daily. Early detection of the disease in all infected persons, is not only necessary for the health – recovery of those persons, but also for the State to rapidly isolate them for treatment in Quarantine Centres, in order to contain the spread of the scourge.