Fighting discrimination, raising spirits

Having recently won the battle against COVID-19, Sabina Thapa talks about the need to support those recovering from the disease

UNICEF Nepal
03 September 2020

Bara, Nepal: Sabina Thapa remembers when she first started to suspect that she may have acquired COVID-19. A few weeks ago, she had developed a slight fever, followed by some difficulty in breathing.

“This was similar to what I had heard were the symptoms,” says the 24-year-old resident of Jeetpursimara in Nepal’s south. “Even though I wasn’t sure how it had happened, I immediately worried that I may have caught the disease.”

Wasting no time, Sabina headed straight to the local health post, from where she was referred to a nearby quarantine centre to get her swab collected for a PCR test. It was a long wait; there were many people in line, but Sabina was determined to get it done.

By the time she returned home, however, news about her situation had spread in her community. “Even though the results were days away, everyone was acting like I had already tested positive,” she says. “Everyone was talking about it.”

Sabina says she was well aware of the risks carried by the disease, and she was already planning to stay home until the results came back – she had even told her family members not to go anywhere.

“I even advised neighbours to maintain a distance and to not visit us until the results came. I didn’t want to put anyone at risk.”

Sabina Thapa
Sabina Thapa
Courtesy: Sabina Thapa

Despite these precautions that she was more than willing to take, the kind of response and treatment she witnessed from the community in the following days was very disappointing, according to Sabina. She heard many comments against her family being passed around, including in online posts.

“They were accusing us of spreading the disease,” she says. “We were a part of this society, and these were people we had lived with, helped and supported in difficult times…... And today, believing that we had the disease, the same people had turned against me and my family.”

“It made us feel like we were not even human. Like we were no longer part of society.”

Sabina and family
Courtesy: Sabina Thapa
Sabina (centre) eats with her family in their home in Bara District

Some days later, Sabina’s test results came back positive and she moved into a quarantine centre in Kalaiya. She has since returned home with a clean bill of health, and all her family members have also tested negative.

Even though she is relieved to be back home, the entire experience has left her scarred, shaken her trust in the strength of community bonds. She says she understands that everyone is afraid right now, but people need to understand that those who have the disease are already under a great deal of stress – they need support.

Sabina and parents
Courtesy: Sabina Thapa
Sabina (far left) with her father and mother in their home in Bara District

“Rather than treating them poorly, you should think about what you can do to raise their spirits because they are part of your society,” says Sabina. “It’s the only way to fight this disease.”

UNICEF Nepal