On 25 March 2020 it was confirmed that traditional healer Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa (98 years old) passed away due to the mental strain caused by backlash and stigma from community members after doctors verified that he was not infected by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus). However, despite this verification from professional doctors, a viral video released, and false rumours caused to a state of panic among indigenous community members and led to his untimely death.
The South African National AIDS Council Traditional Health Practitioners Sector (THP) expresses deep condolences and regret for the death of a leader. As the THP Sector we acknowledge Credo’s legacy and his contributions. Credo was an important figure in communities and has played an important role in the traditional healing as a formal and recognised means of medical practice. We condemn the acts of those who released the viral video and perpetuated false information. We condemn the acts of those who caused their communities to panic and who left Credo in a state of poor wellbeing and mental health during his last days.
THP Sector raises concern over the issue of stigma and discrimination that COVID-19 is inspiring in some of our communities. Persons who are infected or assumed to be infected with the virus are being ostracised and side-lined. There is a pervasive scapegoating mentality attached to the COVID-19 epidemic that needs to be addressed. To exclude or to unfairly treat any person in South Africa because they are infected or presumed to be infected with COVID-19 is a violation of the very values of the South African Constitution and human rights. The Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law. All persons have the right to dignity and to have their dignity respected. It is important that these values continue to be maintained and respected during the pandemic.
Stigma and discrimination will have a negative effect on the fight against COVID-19 and the work being done to reduce the spread of the virus. It will make individuals reluctant to test out of fear of poor treatment and social exclusion. If people are not testing, we will not see the end of the virus. Healthcare services and other services providers need to treat all persons equally and fairly. The decisions made by health practitioners must be respected and societies should not neglect those who have tested positive for the virus. We ask that all members of the THP Sector furthermore adhere and promote the values of human rights and ensure that the issue of mental health and wellbeing is not lost in the conversation on COVID-19.
There is need to educate our communities about COVID-19 in order to stop the spread of stigma and discrimination and to ensure that accurate information is shared in all indigenous languages within indigenous communities. Misinformation is a danger to our society. One of the reasons for the social exclusion of patients with the virus is due to lack of information and false news shared on social media. This has a deep impact on those who have been infected and their families.
We call on government to take necessary measures to educate communities on the aspect of stigma and discrimination and its impact and furthermore ensure that service providers are also sensitised and have the knowledge to treat everyone fairly.