By Fadzli Ramli
KOTA KINABALU (Bernama) – Malaysians are repeatedly uttering and sharing the Kita Jaga Kita slogan on their social media platforms to stand united in their fight against COVID-19.
But to what extent is this slogan being used in support of COVID-19 patients who have recovered from the disease?
While Kita Jaga Kita echoes the Ministry of Health’s reminder to the public to wear their face mask, use a hand sanitiser and practice physical distancing, it must be brought to the people’s attention that the slogan also applies to helping former COVID-19 patients to get back to their normal lives.
The public must understand that recoverees who are tested negative for COVID-19 cannot possibly infect others and, as such, they should not be ostracised by society.
“The stigma attached to former COVID-19 patients is more painful for me to bear than the disease itself,” lamented a 37-year-old former patient who only wanted to be identified as Zulaika.
To be honest, before giving me permission to interview her, Zulaika laid out a few conditions barring me from taking any photograph of her and disclosing her real name and residential location.
Zulaika, who is a lecturer in Kota Kinabalu, tested positive for COVID-19 in early October. Her symptoms included fever and sudden loss of appetite and she is believed to have been infected by one of her students. Since she lived in a small town, the news would spread like wildfire each time someone from the local community tested positive for COVID-19.
“Initially people had shared in our town’s WhatsApp group that there were several infections and in less than a day, they knew who were infected. I understood when they avoided me as I knew they were taking precautions but I was treated the same way even after I had recovered and returned home.
“My husband and children who tested negative for COVID-19 also received the same treatment. The locals shunned my family and each time we went to the town, they would look at us suspiciously. And, whenever we stepped into a shop to buy something, we would see the other customers hurrying out,” she related.
The situation was the same at Zulaika’s workplace. She said some of her students’ parents had expressed their concern about her conducting classes while some of her colleagues would deliberately stay away from her.
The social stigma faced by Zulaika was nothing new to me as I was aware of the stigma associated with people who were infected by the virus as I have been covering COVID-19 related news since the pandemic hit the country. On social media, I came across the account of a former COVID-19 patient who with all sincerity related his experiences but his post drew sarcastic comments.
Zulaika said she was taken aback by a comment that went viral on social media that mocked teachers by telling them to go for COVID-19 screening together with other frontline staff when schools closed.
Do those netizens know who they are making fun of? Don’t they realise that educators like Zulaika continue to discharge their duties despite the challenges they face so that the children of this nation would not be left behind in their studies?
Zulaika was obviously annoyed when I asked her about the student who is said to have infected her. As an educator, she told me, she would never put the blame on her student although she and her entire family ended up being shunned by their community.
“How long can we go on blaming other people? Blaming others won’t help one bit. In difficult times like this, all of us should stay united like a family,” she said.
She admitted that when she was at the quarantine centre, she asked herself why she was infected and not others. But it quickly dawned on her that harbouring bitter feelings would not help her to heal faster.
One thing people need to be aware of is that the COVID-19 virus can infect anyone, regardless of their background, status, skin colour or religion.
The virus does not choose its victims and neither do people voluntarily succumb to the infection! Hence, it is not at all fair to “punish” former COVID-19 patients by ostracising them.
Zulaika, meanwhile, is grateful that some members of the local community in her town have extended their support to her family, in keeping with the Sabah Jaga Sabah spirit that Sabahans have espoused for a long time.
In fact, the thought of moving out of the town did cross her mind as the attitude of some of the locals frustrated her. But she decided to stay put when she realised there were people there who supported her and her family.
“Actually I regret the behaviour of our younger generation who stigmatise former COVID-19 patients. Just look at social media… so many of them are posting sarcastic remarks and taking the issue lightly. Most of them are from the younger generation but we can’t be harsh to them… we have to advise them and approach them in a gentle manner,” she said.
On my way back to the office after the interview, my mind dwelled on the problems faced by Zulaika and her family. I thought to myself that as Malaysians, we have dealt with various challenges in the past and we certainly should not cave in to the challenge posed by COVID-19.
All of us should adhere to the Kita Jaga Kita slogan by not only protecting ourselves but also our fellow Malaysians.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
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