No to public naming of Covid-19 patients

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VERY few people in Zimbabwe have heard of a place called Maharashtra. It is a state in the western peninsular region of India occupying a substantial portion of the Deccan Plateau.

Strangely, our government shares similar thoughts with Maharashtra ― people infected with the lethal coronavirus (Covid-19) must be named publicly ― very strange indeed.

In March, with cases of coronavirus on the increase, Maharashtra issued a circular announcing that names of individuals who have either tested positive or have been put on home quarantine would be made public as part of measures to fight the disease. How disclosure of the names would help in the war, it was not elaborated.

Three months later, enter our Health minister Obadiah Moyo proposing to name publicly Covid-19 patients.
While we are not privy to why and how such a proposal is being considered, we are clear that the move is not only wrong, but criminal and unacceptable.

It is a direct violation of medical ethics and patients’ right to privacy and confidentiality and should never be allowed.

Where this has been tried like in Maharashtra, Delhi and Chandigarh in India, there has been outrage.
In these places, government made names and addresses of Covid-19 suspects public through newspapers and social media, claiming that it will ensure effective containment of coronavirus transmission.

In some cases posters were glued outside homes of suspects mentioning their names, quarantine period and the number of people in the family who have been asked to remain in isolation.

The posters were inscribed with the words ‘Covid-19: Do not visit’ and ‘Home under quarantine’.
Our fear is that if Zimbabwe is to go ahead and name Covid-19 patients, this will breed stigma and deter people from reporting their illness and hide their history of exposure for fear of social intimidation.

This would make it harder for the country to trace cases and contain the virus. Such measures can cause potential harm and distress to patients and their families in both short and long term, that is even if they are certified to be infection free.

Human rights organisations and health experts must fight tooth and nail to stop the government from publicly naming coronavirus patients if the country is to win the war against the pandemic threatening to annihilate the globe.

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