BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
It is public knowledge that most people now know what COVID-19 is and how it is spread. Briefly, this is a new virus and is spread by coughing, sneezing and touching the eyes after picking the infection from surfaces or droplets from a cough or a sneeze from an infected person.
As a Sociologist, I am aware and experienced of the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) the government is using to track those who came into contact with the infected individuals.
While this is a good start, it is deficient because it relies on snowballing which makes it not only ineffective because of its complex nature but also very expensive undertaking.
Imagine involving people to do the tracing and the costs involved. Tracer projects are always very complicated and expensive to undertake. The snowballing technique that goes with it is good but relies also on the memory of the infected person.
Given the state of panic of those confirmed to have COVID-19, snowballing may not be an effective way of tracing those who might have come into contact with positive cases.
One may remember one or two people and this may not be comprehensive enough to net all those who may have come into contact with them and who may be at risk.
Further, the involvement of security agencies to track those who might have come into contact with those infected is securitization of the fight against Corona.
While this has its own advantages but it creates stigma to those infected. What do I propose, therefore, Mr. President?
Probably, Mr. President it would be more cost effective to suspend, using executive order, the patient confidentiality clause.
This way we will make it easy to reverse the SNA being used at the moment, which is both costly and ineffective in cases of dealing with epidemics of this magnitude.
When this is done, and it’s public knowledge that if one is found positive their names will be made public, it will make people more responsible and compliance to precautionary measures will be enhanced.
Accordingly, under this situation I can propose Mr. President a reversed SNA, which I believe will work well and help us deal with the spread of Corona efficiently.
Practically, the reversed SNA, Sir, will work without the tracer component. It will begin by announcing the names of those who have been tested positive.
This then automatically allows all those who have come into contact with these people to take immediate precautionary measures. They can report themselves, self-quarantine or isolate themselves.
This way, Mr President, we will be able to track down many people who may be infected at low cost because they will either self-present for screening and testing or self-quarantine with care because they would have known they may be at risk.
Securitizing the war against Corona in tracing those infected and forcefully arraigning them to Mbagathi as the CS Health has alluded, is one of the options but this further stigmatizes the diseases leading to resistance or lack of cooperation from those suspected to be infected.
Lack of cooperation means more infections as those fearing stigmatization and discrimination hibernate further spreading the virus.
Mr President, we can easily win this war by reducing stigma and discrimination. Security should be an option where people resist complying with the orders.
Thus, if we lift the patient confidentiality clause and make it public, then those who might have come into contact with those infected can have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of what happens after such public disclosure.
Finally, the question that remains is what if we don’t lift the patient confidentiality clause? It means rumours and suspicion that may lead to more stigma and discrimination.
It may also be expensive as rumored or suspected cases may seek help en mass where they may not have needed it at the expense of those who may need it or may hibernate or spread the virus to net others in the quagmire or the current SNA approach based on security tracer technique maybe overstretched.
As a Sociologist who understands human behavior, I would advise that it’s imperative all is done to de-stigmatize COVID-19.
Overall, that’s my small contribution to the fight against Corona relayed from home where I am still working as advised by you, Sir.