SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) president Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari on Thursday stressed on the government to go for sustained awareness campaigns for removing social stigma and ways of combating the spread of COVID pandemic in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a statement issued here, Bukhari said the authorities especially the health department can achieve better results in getting people to be transparent about reporting COVID-19 symptoms if they boost public awareness through mass media that address perceived disgrace associated with the disease.

“For striking a balance between an ailing economy and tackling the pandemic, the government of J&K should simultaneously fight the shame associated with this disease which compels the people to conceal their symptoms,” the JKAP president remarked.

Bukhari said that there are multiple instances wherein people fled quarantine facilities and isolation wards at hospitals, creating an arduous task for authorities who were forced to retrace them and also the people they have interacted with.

“As we stand at the threshold of fighting a highly contagious virus, we cannot import western models of health communication and apply them blindly in our context. We need to take our socio-cultural factors into account while formulating campaigns to fight COVID-19,” he stressed.

Bukhari said the concerns about social stigma often influence decisions about the health issues in this part of the world. “This needs to be changed. To fight a virus at this scale, people need to beat stigma and social ostracisation at every level. The government must come forward in this regard to help the people through vast public awareness,” he demanded.

Bukhari said that apart from running campaigns that aim at reducing social stigma associated with COVID-19 on all forms of media including newspapers, radio, television, mobile phones, etc., the government of J&K needs to destigmatize the concept of quarantine as well.

“Campaigns need to be launched to highlight that quarantine is a mere medical necessity to beat COVID-19. It is not a death sentence. Neither is it a punishment meted out by state authorities for those that happen to catch the virus. People need to be convinced that although it is extremely difficult to be separated from one’s family members and spend time in an isolation ward, it represents the only road to cure and good health,” Bukhari added.

Since the COVID has been transmitted at the community level, it is important that the government should spread awareness about it in both urban and rural areas while taking measures at easing out the lockdown.

“If the government allows business units and markets to function we need to identify ways in which social distancing can be practiced in congested localities and communicate those to the public. Similarly, it’s not enough to emphasise that people should not panic as grocery shops will remain open during the lockdown. It’s also important to find a way in which essential commodities can be delivered to people who cannot leave their homes during the lockdown,” he added.

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