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The burden of stigma
After Mumbai dentist Azmera Shaikh and her mother tested positive for COVID-19, their neighbors ostracized the rest of her family, refusing to let them put out garbage or help them buy groceries. As the new coronavirus spread around the world early this year, some people around the world responded in similar ways. In Nepal, health workers were thrown out of accommodations. In Chennai, India, some doctors avoided getting tested to avoid trouble with neighbors. Such responses would have been familiar to our ancestors. From ancient times, humans have feared disease and shunned those thought to have it. But today, those old responses can undermine public health efforts. Stigma encourages people to hide illness and avoid treatment, and it intensifies patient stress and reinforces inequality. The history of past epidemics, from leprosy and cholera to HIV, shows the hidden burden of stigma on individuals and societies.