As pandemic spreads, ICMR studies seek to understand its stigma
During her first interview with a Covid-19 patient, Suganya Barani, a Master’s student at the National Institute of Epidemiology (NIE) in Chennai, abandoned her set of questions as she saw anxiety build up in his eyes. “What are you afraid of?” she asked him.
The patient, a hospital sanitation worker, had just been informed of his test result, and he was about to be moved to a Covid ward. He had no symptoms, and hospital managers, civic officials, and colleagues were pressing him about his contact history.
“I am afraid of these people approaching me and asking me personal questions,” he told her.
Barani is a researcher who is part of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR’s) attempt to capture a holistic picture of the pandemic with three socio-psychological studies – on healthcare workers, stigma in the public, and psychological effects of the lockdown. The qualitative and quantitative “stigma projects” were approved after incidents of attacks on healthcare workers, marginalisation of returning migrants, and suicides of those awaiting test results.
“We have a lot of anecdotal evidence in print and social media. But we need evidence for policy changes and interventions,” Dr Beena Thomas of ICMR’s National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT), said. Dr Thomas led a sub-group that formulated the upcoming studies.
“We have identified this as a priority,” a lead member of the ICMR National Task Force overseeing research studies, said. “Our studies look at lab persons, doctors, nurses, ambulance persons, health managers, people awaiting test results, families of those who are positive, and positive persons themselves to understand what they are facing…”
One study, slated to begin next week, will explore the mental health of healthcare workers and other personnel who manage Covid-19 patients across 10 centres. A separate study aims to understand the “determinants of stigma related to Covid-19” by looking at three frames through which stigma can form: knowledge (or the lack thereof), attitude, and perception.
A third project, awaiting review, will document the challenges faced by various socio-economic sections of society under lockdown.