Associate Professor & Dr. Longtao He, Research Institute of Social Development, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu, China. Address: 55 Guanghuacun Road, Chengdu City, 610074, China. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ORCID 0000-0001-7072-7457
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in China, “Wuhan” and “Wuhanese” have become terms equivalent to the virus itself for many Chinese citizens outside of Hubei province (whose capital city is Wuhan). The content of many social media posts in China have stigmatized Wuhan or Wuhanese, for example posts engaging in name-calling (e.g., “quarantine-breakers”) or video clips of people shouting at or even physically assaulting Wuhanese or people who visited Wuhan after the outbreak. This stigma towards Wuhanese within China 1,2China’s national strategies for dealing with the virus, such as quarantine and physical isolation, have been criticized for contributing to or reinforcing the prevalence of this stigma against Wuhan.3 COVID-19 related stigma against residents living or traveling to endemic areas has also bred. Chinese residents, even East Asian residents–looking people in general—have been labelled as virus carriers in some countries.4 This short article draws on lessons learnt from other infectious disease outbreaks, such as HIV and Ebola, to help inform approaches to COVID-19-related stigma within China.
A multilayered view of stigmatizing discourses lays the foundation for eliciting a series of suggestions for quelling stigma, to be implemented at the individual, community, and national levels, as suggested by the WHO.5,6 If possible, anti-stigmatization measures should begin to play a role before stigma becomes solidified. The community can help people abide by national quarantine measures by turning negative narratives into ones encouraging people to be “more careful”. Practical inspiration may be found in the community-based approach advocated by the WHO5,6 for the prevention and control of Ebola, which included working towards community members’ acceptance of victims and providing psycho-social counseling for the infected, sympathy training for community workers, and other behavioral and cognitive change programs to replace stigma with reintegration.7 Moreover, medical professionals, health practitioners, and relevant academic institutions should proactively disseminate creditable news and information during such health outbreaks through mainstream social media channels.8 For example, prestigious medical schools and hospitals could use official WeChat accounts to share information and news with the general public. As previous research has found, providing factual information helps tremendously in addressing misconceptions and myths about infectious diseases, the latter of which can seriously undermine implementation of preventive measures.
Scholars such as Wen et al.9 and Yang10 suggested that community approaches for managing stigmatization related to infectious disease must also include an individual aspect, primarily achieved through dissemination of useful and authentic information. For example, individuals, including community health workers, potential stigmatizers, and even the stigmatized, need to cultivate a sense of caring and sympathy for those infected and for other stigmatized groups in the community. Yet, as Tenkorang7 made the point, it is simply not enough to only implement approaches at the community level. National involvement is also needed to facilitate these efforts. Many Chinese expressed their disapproval of the many untrusted sources of information online while demonstrating a high level of trust towards the central government.11 As Shao and Li12 proposed, prejudice and discrimination generated from untrusted information about COVID-19 on social media can be resisted through appropriate regulation and strong, highly visible official messaging.
- Logie CH. Lessons learned from HIV can inform our approach to COVID-19 stigma. J I AIDS Soc 2020;23(5): e25504. doi:10.1002/jia2.25504
- Mukhtar S. Psychological health during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic outbreak. Int J Soc Psychiatry 2020 (May 21; published online). doi:10.1177/0020764020925835
- Jones D. How to reduce the negative psychological impact MRSA isolation on patients. Nurs Times 2010;106(36):14–16. Available from: https://www.nursingtimes.net/roles/mental-health-nurses/how-to-reduce-the-negative-psychological-impact-of-mrsa-isolation-on-patients-13-09-2010/
- Croucher SM, Nguyen T, Rahmani D. Prejudice toward Asian Americans in the Covid-19 pandemic: the effects of social media use in the United States. Front Commun ́2020 (June 12; published online). doi:10.3389/fcomm.2020.00039
- World Health Organization. Ebola virus disease update—West Africa. 2014 (28 August). Accessed June 21, 2020 from: http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_08_28_ebola/en/.
- World Health Organization. Application of APPS community engagement approach (ACE) for strengthening Ebola preparedness, response and recovery. 2017. Accessed June 21, 2020 from: http://www.who.int/patientsafety/apps/SummaryBriefingACE-Ebola.pdf
- Tenkorang EY. Ebola-related stigma in Ghana: Individual and community level determinants. Soc Sci Med 2017;182:142–49. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.060
- Luan Z, Zhang Y. 新冠肺炎疫情报道中的信息呈现与媒体表现 [Information presentation and media performance during the COVID-19 outbreak]. 新闻战线[News Frontline] 2020;(3):1–10. Available from: http://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-XWZX202003005.htm
- Wen Y, Yao Y, Huang Y, Jin Y, Zhao C, Zhang L, Gao W. 农村艾滋病流行区艾滋病相关知识、态度调查分析 [A survey of knowledge about and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS in rural places]. 皖南医学院学报 [J Wannan Med Coll] 2010;29(05):391–94.
- Yang D. The valid path for anti-stigmatization of HIV/AIDS. Doctorate [dissertation]. Shaanxi, Xi’an, China: Shaanxi Normal University; 2018.
- Gao J, Zheng P, Jia Y, Chen H, Mao Y, Chen S, Wang Y, Fu H, Dai J. Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak. PLOS ONE 2020;15(4):e0231924. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0231924
- Shao H, Li Y. 社交平台中主流媒体的公共突发事件报道创新研究——以《人民日报》官方微博对新冠肺炎报道为例 [Research on COVID-19 reports in social media—a case study of the People Daily micro-blog’s COVID-19 report]. 现代视听 [Modern Audiovisual Arts] 2020;(2):16–19.