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D1.6 - Human Rights, stigmatisation and risk of discrimination

on Wed, 01/16/2013 - 09:45

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D1.6 - Human Rights, stigmatisation and risk of discrimination

In the contexts of epidemics, important aspects to take into account include that stigmatisation often involves individuals with readily identifiable traits (such as individuals belonging to minorities), that such traits can often be linked to characteristics that are given negative moral connotations and that individuals most susceptible to stigma are those who occupy inferior positions in relationships of power.

In the context of epidemics, groups that are prone to stigmatisation include those groups that have a perceived connection with the geographic origin of the outbreak in question, members of the medical profession, those who are part of prestigmatised groups, those who have connections to perceived animal origins of an outbreak and those individuals who actually become infected themselves. Past experience, especially the recent outbreaks of SARS, H5N1 and H1N1 have shown these groups to be vulnerable to problems associated with stigmatisation.

Those vested with responsibility for planning public health responses to epidemic situations should take into account the existence of such individuals and their susceptibility to stigmatisation when planning their actions.

Stigmatisation should be avoided not only because of the moral issues that may be involved, but also because it can create or augment certain very deleterious effects that can have negative consequences for both the individuals involved and also for society as a whole: for instance, the possibility of healthcare avoidance behaviours. It may also provoke negative consequences not only during an epidemic but also after the epidemic in question has disappeared.

One important aspect that has been identified with regards to stigmatisation is that it can occur even where there is no actual discrimination occurring.

In order to avoid unnecessary stigmatisation, there are two principal strategies available to those who plan public health responses. The first is to ensure that the provision of healthcare services is made on an equal basis to all, irrelevant of society’s opinion on their moral status. The second one is the engagement of discriminated subjects, for instance through targeted campaigns that take into account their sensitiveness.