COVID-19: Disinformation and rumors spreads fear and stigma in Yemen

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic there is a growing fear of detention and stigma amongst the population in Yemen, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres. This is being execrated with disinformation and lack of knowledge of isolation centres that are deterring people from seeking timely treatment for the disease.

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“Some patients stay at home for a while after they get symptoms and may arrive in the late stages of the disease. Many are transferred here without oxygen, especially those coming from far places,” said Saddam al-Zawari the Intensive Care Unit Supervisor in the Al Jumhouri isolation centre in Sana’a.

“Therefore, we advise all patients to go to the nearest health centre once they develop symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty to breath. From there patients can be transferred to the nearest COVID-19 treatment centres if need for further care,” he added

With the spread of incorrect facts and disinformation many people in the country think that they will receive lethal injections, while others believe a visit to a COVID-19 centre will see them detained against their will.

Many patients ignore medical advice and insist on leaving the hospital early because there is anxiety that the longer they stay in a ward, the higher the chances of being stigmatized by relatives and friends.

Medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen. (File photo: AP)
Medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen. (File photo: AP)

Muhammad Sa’ad, a patient in Al Jumhouri COVID-19 treatment center, revealed that he didn’t know there was a health facility in Dhamar where he lives that could have treated him. Instead he traveled three hours to Sana’a. The MSF team treat patients that have traveled up to six hours to visit the center.

Compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures in Yemen is low. This is linked to limited public awareness campaigns that contrast sharply to other campaigns for diseases such as Cholera.

On the back of this, people’s ability to identify the severity of COVID-19 symptoms to seek early care is erratic.

MSF is addressing these challenges through health promoters working in the COVID-19 department, but the team is limited to communication within the treatment facility itself and are unable to reach the wider population.

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Ebtisam Ahmed has been working as a health promoter in the isolation centre since its opening in April, and said: “Despite the difficulties regarding health education related to COVID-19 in Yemen, we are doing our best here in the centre to correct misconceptions about the disease and disseminate information to patients and their companions on how to protect themselves and when and where to receive treatment. We also provide support to patients and build confidence between patients and medical staff to reduce the fear they have, and this is clearly reflected when they leave the centre in good health.”

Gilles Grandclement, Project Coordinator for the MSF COVID-19 response in Al Jumhouri Hospital spends time reminding and encouraging the public that the pandemic is impacting on everyone’s lives.

“COVID-19 is affecting all of us, it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the control of this spreading disease and protect each other from getting it,” Grandclement said.

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